John 21
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

I. THE OLD SCENE. This verse gets all its suggestiveness just as we remember the place which Jesus chose for this particular manifestation. Persons and time and place were all combined together into one complete lesson of truth. Capernaum stood on that sea, the one place that came nearest to a home for him who all the years of his public life had no true home. While walking on the margin of its waters, Jesus called his first disciples to become "fishers of men" (Luke 5:1-11). To the disciples of Jesus gathered on the shores of this lake everything should have been eloquent with stirring memories of their Master. Everything in the way of circumstance and association was made, as far as it could be, into a hook and a help.

II. WHAT WAS CHANGED SINCE THE COMPANY HAD BEEN THERE BEFORE? The interval could not have been very long; yet what momentous things had happened in it! There was no change to speak of in the scene; a spectator from some coign of vantage would have seen pretty much the same as before. Nor would there be much change in the disciples. A great preparation was going on; but the change itself had yet to come. But in Jesus himself, what a glorious change! The mortal had put on immortality, the corruptible had put on incorruption. A great gulf separated him and his disciples - an immense difference added on to all the differences existing before. Best of all, the difference was laden with hope and encouragement for all who could look at it in the right way. The change in Jesus heralded and initiated a change in every one of these disciples, and through them a change in many with whom they would have to deal.

III. THE ESSENTIAL JESUS STILL REMAINED. He had not to make confession of former errors and new discoveries. The change in Jesus was but a metamorphosis; the change in the disciples was a regeneration. Jesus would look different, for he had put on the body of his glory. Before long, the disciples, looking outwardly the same, would have been profoundly changed.

IV. THE NEED OF A NEW MANIFESTATION TO US IN THE OLD SCENES OF OUR LIFE. Most people have to spend their days among scenes that are as familiar to them as ever the shores of Galilee were to these seven disciples. Life may become very dull and monotonous in these circumstances. But a manifestation of Jesus will make a wondrous change. Then, and only then, will there be sense and comfort in the utterance, that "old things have passed away, and all things become new." The Galilaean cities are gone long ago; but humanity remains, needing all the manifestations of Jesus as much as ever it did. - Y.

First uttered by John when he discerned the form of his beloved Master upon the beach of the Galilaean lake, this exclamation has passed into the hearts and the lips of all Christian people, who, amidst the various scenes of life, have recognized their Savior's presence, and have ever been wont to acknowledge with reverential faith, "It is the Lord!" The circumstances in which the words were uttered, as well as the words themselves, are full of instruction, suggestion, and comfort.

I. How JESUS COMES TO BE HIDDEN. Others, beside the twelve, have for a time failed to recognize the Son of God.

1. It may be through human misapprehension. Many there are who never really see and know Jesus. They misunderstand his character and purposes, his disposition with reference to themselves; and consequently they remain altogether estranged from him.

2. It may be through human unbelief. Men may, and do, deliberately draw a veil between themselves and Christ. Their sins, their unspirituality, are a complete barrier to their really knowing him; they are without the receptiveness and sympathy which are necessary in order to such knowledge.

3. It may be through human perplexity and despondency. In the case of the disciples this seems to have been the explanation of their failure to perceive at once that the form upon the shore was that of their Lord. Their minds were preoccupied with their own distress, uncertainty, and troubles. And thus they were for a while blind to that very presence which alone could bring them relief and blessing.

II. HOW JESUS COMES TO BE RECOGNIZED. He was hidden for a short season from the eyes even of his own attached friends; but the hiding was not for long. Nor will he fail to make his nearness and his grace known to those who are prepared to receive the revelation. This he does:

1. By the voice of Divine authority in which he speaks. There was command in the tones of Jesus when he bade the fishers let down their net. He never speaks - however graciously and with however much of encouragement and kindly invitation - save in a manner divinely authoritative. And the true disciples recognize that royal tone.

2. By the language of sympathy and love which he uses. As Jesus pitied the poor fishermen who had toiled all night in vain; as he addressed them as his children, and showed commiseration; so does he ever appeal to the tenderest feelings of human hearts, awakening the response which love gives to love.

3. By the provision which he makes for the needs of his own. There is a practical aspect in the spiritual ministry of the Savior. He provided breakfast for the disciples; how could he have given them a homelier welcome? Thus does he give his flesh for the life of the world. His Deity is recognized in his devotion and sacrifice. They who once see what he has done for man can never doubt who he is.

III. How THE RECOGNIZED JESUS IS GREETED. With the cry, "It is the Lord!" This is:

1. The cry of faith, on discovering in him the Truth of God. The long-looked-for vision breaks upon the soul. He who has been desired draws near.

2. The cry of obedience, as his will is felt to be authoritatively binding. He speaks the language of command; and the obedient soldier adopts the wish as law, and does the bidding of his Captain; for "it is the Lord!"

3. The cry of submission and resignation, as his hand is discerned in the chastisements of life. Let a man say, "It is fate!" or, "It is fortune!" and how can he submit with profit? But let him say, "It is the Lord!" and he will add, "Let him do as seemeth good in his sight."

4. The cry of witness, as Christ's presence is proclaimed to all around. It is the mission of the Church to all the world, to direct attention to the world's Savior and Lord.


1. With his society and friendship.

2. With his liberality and bounty, by which all their spiritual wants are supplied.

3. With his power and benediction upon the life and work of each one who acknowledges and serves him.

4. With the final vision of his face. They who have seen him by faith on earth shall see him as he is above. Blessed, rapturous, shall be the recognition, when the disciple shall open his eyes in heaven, and shall exclaim, "It is the Lord!" - T.

It does at first sight seem strange that when John had exclaimed, "It is the Lord!" when Peter had plunged into the lake to swim to the shore where Jesus stood, when all the little company had indubitable evidence that Jesus was indeed with them, there should still have been this reticence, this diffidence, this awe. Yet such conduct is not inconsistent with human nature; and its analogue is still to be discerned in human experience.

I. THE SOUL RECOGNIZES CHRIST BY HIS DIVINE DEMEANOR AND LANGUAGE. The authority and the considerateness with which Jesus addressed the disciples, and the provision which he made for their wants, were to them an assurance that they were not mistaken in their conviction that they were in the presence of their Lord. Only let the heart be open to the manifestations of the spiritual presence of the Divine Lord and Savior of men, in his Word and in human society, and the conclusion will be reached speedily and certainly that the work witnesses to the Worker; that the light and heat are an index to the presence of the sun. The correspondence between human need on the one hand and Divine provision on the other is so marked and so perfect as to suggest, and indeed to require, belief in the authoritative mission of Christ, and in his eternal presence in human society.

II. THE SOUL MAY BE DETERRED BY ITS VERY REVERENCE FROM INTELLECTUAL INQUIRY INTO CHRIST'S CREDENTIALS. No doubt there are those who believe as they have been taught and trained to believe, and whose belief is simply the reflection of that of others. Yet there are natures, refined and sensitive, who are so perfectly convinced of our Lord's Deity and mission, that to doubt of, and even to inquire into, this matter seems almost like a scrutiny into a mother's virtue or a father's integrity. They have the witness within themselves. For some, evidences and investigation and criticism may be necessary; but for these reverent souls is no such need. Knowing "it is the Lord," they dare not ask him, "Who art thou?"

III. SUCH FAITH IS SUFFICIENT FOR HIM WHO EXERCISES IT, AND IS ACCEPTABLE TO THE LORD HIMSELF. Men may reason and argue and dispute, and yet never come to faith, whilst there are believing souls who are altogether indifferent to logical processes and insusceptible to critical doubt. The heart may be peaceful and strong in fellowship with the Savior who has revealed himself to it. And he whose claims will endure all scrutiny, and whose right transcends all debate, is yet willing to accept the homage of the child-like, and the devotion of the congenial and the pure. - T.

To comprehend this interview and dialogue, it is necessary to look at preceding circumstances. In a conversation which took place before our Lord's betrayal, Peter had made the most ardent professions of attachment and devotion to his Master. Though all should forsake Jesus, yet would not he! He was willing even to die with him! But the events of the awful night of the Lord's apprehension and mock trial before the Jewish council, had made evident the moral weakness of spiritual fiber which was hidden by his impetuous fervor. Peter's faith had failed, and he had been led by timidity to deny the Lord he loved. That he repented of his cowardice, and that with bitter tears, was known to the Master whom he had wronged. These circumstances account for the language of Jesus when he met his disciple by the lake of Galilee. Jesus elicited from his follower the thrice-repeated expression of his love, and, having done this, treated Peter as one restored and reconciled, imparted to him his apostolic commission, and predicted his future of service and of martyrdom. Turning from the special incident which called for the question and the answer here recorded, we direct attention to what is practical and of universal application.

I. A POINTED QUESTION. "Lovest thou me?"

1. This question implies that Christ has a claim upon our love. This claim is founded upon:

(1) His supreme worthiness to be loved. Who, in himself, in character, in moral excellence, can be compared with Jesus, as the Object of human affection? He was admired and loved on earth; but since his ascension he has been more intensely and far more widely admired and loved by those whom he has left behind him. In a word, he deserves love; and we "needs must love the worthiest."

(2) His love to us. Christ's is no cold, elevated dignity and excellence. He is a Being of benevolence, compassion, and tenderness; and these qualities he has displayed towards us. His love and kindness to men are simply the expression of his holy, gracious nature. He first loved us; and, if we love him not, we prove our insensibility and moral debasement. There is nothing meanly interested and unworthy in the love Christ's people bear him.

(3) Especially upon his sacrifice and death. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;" and this proof of Divine affection Jesus gave. His was the love which is "stronger than death."

"Which of all our friends, to save us.
Could or would have shed his blood?
But Immanuel died to have us
Reconciled in him to God.
This was boundless love indeed:
Jesus is a Friend in need."

2. This question implies that Christ is solicitous and desirous of our love. Men often seek the friendship of those who are above them in abilities, in station, in character, in power. Jesus does just the contrary when he condescends to ask our love. It is a proof of his disinterested and benevolent affection, that Jesus should deign to address to each hearer of His Word the question, "Lovest thou me?"

3. This question implies that in Christ's view our love towards himself is of vast importance to us. To love him, as he knows full well, is to man the spring of the truly religious life. It is the surest means of becoming like him. Nay, to love Christ is to be in the way of loving everything that is good. It must not be supposed that such affection is the merely sentimental side of religion; it is closely connected with practice, for love is the divinely ordered motive to duty and service. How different is Christianity from other and merely human religions! These teach men to fear God, to propitiate God, but never to love God. Jesus draws our love towards himself, and thus leads us into love to God as the element of our higher life.

II. As ARDENT RESPONSE. In the case of Peter, the reply to our Lord's pointed question was most satisfactory. It may well be pondered as an example for us, as Christians, to imitate. It was:

1. An affirmative answer, inconsistent with coldness, indifference, and mere respect.

2. A modest and not a boastful answer. Peter had endured a bitter experience of the mischief of self-confidence and boastfulness; into this sin he was not likely again to fall.

3. A cordial and sincere answer, opposed to merely formal and verbal profession.

4. An open and public answer, such as should ever be given to the rightful Lord and holy Friend of man.

5. A consistent answer - one supported by a lit e of loving devotion.

6. An acceptable and accepted answer. When Jesus asks our heart, and we yield it, never need we fear lest he should reject what we offer. - T.

Notice -


1. In some of its leading features.

(1) It is the highest order of love. "Lovest (ἀγαπᾷς) thou," etc.? Love varies in its quality, from the common love of man to man up to the most spiritual and Divine love of the soul to God. The love required of the shepherd is the latter, although the former is by no means to be despised, but is advantageous.

(2) It is the highest order of love to Christ. "Lovest thou me?" This high honor, devotion, and attachment must be felt towards Jesus - his Person, his character, his cause, and grand purposes of salvation. Christ in his Person and character demands the highest devotions of the heart and soul.

(3) It is the highest order of personal love to Christ. "Lovest thou," etc.? It must not be merely historical, but experimental. Not the love of some one else, but that of the individual himself - the fire of his own heart, the glow of his own affections, the enthusiasm of his own soul, and the warm devotion of his own feelings. There is much that is borrowed and second-hand in religious experience and Christian love. Christ requires the really experienced love of the individual.

(4) It is the highest order of love to Christ in the greatest degree. "More than these" - more than the other disciples love me. This doubtless has a retrospective reference to Peter's profession of love, and serves as a rebuke; but it has a prospective reference to the fulfillment of personal love in the future, and serves as a guide and inspiration. Love to him is not only to be of the best quality, but also of the greatest quantity. It should strive to excel. Christ is to be supreme in the heart, and occupy the throne without a successful competitor.

2. In its supreme importance.

(1) It is important to the disciple himself.

(a) As the test of his Christian character. The possession or non-possession of love decides at once his relationship to Christ. Without love he is none of his; with it he is Christ's disciple.

(b) As the sum of his Christian being. What a man's love is, he is to Christ. Love only weighs in the Christian balance. A man may be all things, but without love he is nothing; in the absence of love every excellence goes for nothing. It is the sum and soul of our Christian being.

(c) As the essential qualification for Christian service. It is the only basis, inspiration, and support of Christian work and usefulness. Great faith may make a great hero, great intellect may make a great scientist; but great love alone can make a great preacher and missionary.

(2) It is important in relation to Jesus.

(a) He is anxious that all should love him. Hence the question. A cold Stoic cares not for the love of others; but a loving nature craves to be loved. He who is love, and came on an errand of infinite love, is anxious to be loved of all.

(b) He is anxious to know how all feel towards him, especially his disciple and candidate for apostleship. He is anxious to learn from his own lips the true sentiment of his heart.

(c) Only those who specially love him can be of special and real use to him. He wants shepherds, workers, preachers, and soldiers; but only those who love him supremely are eligible for his service, especially to be Shepherds of his flock.

3. In its special trial.

(1) It is tried by Christ. He asks his all-important question. He is the Examiner and Judge, and he alone is fit for this office. He alone knows what is in man.

(2) The trial is personal. Christ stood face to face with Peter, and asked him, "Lovest," etc.? The trial of love is still between the soul and Christ. The Personal Christ comes to the soul and asks, "Lovest thou me?" The candidate for the ministry may be questioned by the Church through some of its officials; but the real examination is that in the human heart by the ever-living and present Savior.

(3) The trial is most searching. The question is thrice repeated, almost in the same words. It rang in his ears, penetrated his heart, went through and through his whole moral being, and stirred his soul unto its very foundation.

4. In its satisfactory evidence.

(1) The evidence of his inward consciousness. He felt in his very heart that he loved him. His inmost spirit testified to this.

(2) The evidence of his public confession, He emphatically answers to the question, "I do love thee." There is no hesitation, but, with every repetition of the question, his affirmative answer is growingly earnest.

(3) The evidence of the perfect knowledge of Jesus. At each answer he appeals to this. "Thou knowest," etc. He is willing to be judged by his past conduct in spite of his denial. He had confidence in his Judge. He was conscious of his omniscience, and still to this he confidently appeals.

(4) The evidence of his modest self-distrust. He had more confidence in the knowledge of Jesus than in his own. He finally leaves the matter with his Judge. This is unlike old Peter; there must have been some inflow of new life and light. At his third repetition of the question he was grieved; if he was not, we should be inclined to grieve for him. It was human and Christian to feel so. It was the natural pain of sincere love at being questioned, its blush at being apparently doubted - a strong evidence of its sincerity.

(5) The direct evidence of Jesus. "Feed my lambs." This was a final proof that his love was genuine. Christ would not entrust his iambs but to the bosom of genuine love, nor his sheep but to the arms of warm affection. His employment in his service was the strongest proof of the sincerity of his love.


1. This service is special. "Feed my lambs," etc.

(1) Christ has his lambs and sheep. He has his little, weak, young, helpless, ignorant and wayward ones; and he also has some that are more mature and strong.

(2) These require feeding. Neither the weak nor the strong can live without food. The weak are not too weak to take it, the strong are not too strong to require it. Food is as essential to the health and growth of spiritual life as it is of the physical.

(3) It is the special duty of the pastor to supply them with food. The provision must be appropriate and suitable in quality and quantity. It must be spiritual, and not carnal and material. It must be real, and not illusive. Souls will starve if they have to breakfast on mere rhetoric, dine on mere words, and sup on empty ceremonies. The food must be appropriate, plentiful, and timely; otherwise the sheep and lambs of Christ will not thrive.

2. The service is various.

(1) Some portions of it are comparatively easy and simple. "Feed my lambs." Compared with other portions of the pastoral office, this is simple. It embraces the first elements of knowledge, the first principles of truth, the alphabet of Christianity, and the milk of the Word.

(2) Some portions of it are more difficult and honorable. "Tend and feed my sheep." This requires great wisdom, intellect, and spiritual power and penetration to dive down for the hidden treasures, and climb some of the higher branches of the tree of life for the ripest fruits.

(3) The various portions of the office demand all our energies. Food must be provided and wisely administered. This will involve thought, search, energy, and tender care, and will demand all the vitality of head and heart; and this must be supplied by the great Shepherd.

(4) Those who faithfully perform the simplest duties of the service are fitted and allowed to perform the most difficult and honorable. He who is willing and able to feed the lambs is allowed to feed the sheep. Those who teach the young in the Sunday school are specially trained to teach the more advanced in the congregation. Those who are faithful over a few things shall rule over many. If you will not feed the lambs, who will entrust you the sheep?

(5) The performance of the simplest portions of the service requires the most love. After the answer to the question, "Lovest thou me more than these?" Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." To feed and nurse the little, weak, and invalid ones requires tenderer and more patient love than to satisfy the strong and healthy. If the latter require more wisdom and eloquence, the former require more love. The father will rule and instruct the healthy and robust of his family; but the mother alone will nurse the babe, and watch over the invalid child. The more honorable portions of Christian service may be performed from the love of fame, popularity, and self-interest; but its drudgery can scarcely be inspired by anything but the pure love of Christ. If you wish to manifest disinterested love for Christ, feed his lambs, and this is the only training for advancement.

3. This is a service which can only be properly performed by supreme love to Christ.

(1) This alone can make it possible. It involves physical, mental, and spiritual energy, and self-sacrifice, tender and patient care and watching; and these can only be inspired and sustained by supreme love to Christ.

(2) This alone can make it valuable to the shepherd, to the sheep, and to Christ.

(3) This alone can make it pleasant and delightful. Otherwise it will be a burden and an unbearable drudgery; but love will make its most unpleasant duties a sweet delight.

(4) This alone can make it really successful. The food provided and administered in love will alone be multiplied and blessed; and in its participation the lambs and sheep of Christ will lie down in green pastures, beside the still waters.


1. It was proper that Peter's love should be severely tried. This was required by the nature of the case. He denied Christ thrice, and thrice was the question of love put to him. A damaged vessel must be well examined and repaired before being sent to sea again.

2. The omniscience of the Master is a great comfort to the sincere servant. On account of his essential failings and shortcomings at best, he is liable to be upon the whole misguided by men; but from their petty court he can appeal to the "King's bench," and, if right there, he has a consolation in the duties of his office, which will inspire him in all difficulties, and which no man can take away.

3. Let the pastor ever remember that the sheep are not his own, but Christ's. Although he is the shepherd, the provider, and the feeder, yet he is not the owner. Their owner is Christ, and let them be treated as such in all their peculiarities and failings for his sake.

4. Those who love Christ are commissioned by him to do his work. Let the fact of personal, genuine love to him be established, and their commission follows as a matter of course. Love to Christ is entitled to work for him, and will work for him. It will ever find employment, and the fidelity with which it performs its duties is the final proof of its power and sincerity. In the degree we love Christ we shall feed and tend his lambs and sheep. - B.T.

Reasons based on previous experiences of Peter will at once suggest themselves as explaining why the question of Jesus was addressed to Peter rather than another disciple. But the best reason of all is that Jesus knows best whom to ask, and. when. There was need why Peter should be especially addressed; but the other listeners were not shut out. Love to Jesus was as much a necessity and a duty to the other six as to Peter.

I. LOOK AT THE QUESTION IN THE LIGHT OF THE "THOU," "Lovest thou me?" Jesus addressed no stranger, no occasional acquaintance, but the constant companion and servant over a very considerable time. Jesus cannot come to a stranger with this question. But who of us should be able to plead the stranger's plea? Have we not heard the forerunner's voice, "Repent"? Have we not heard the Master's voice, "Follow me"? What a solemn reminder this question contains of the headway some of us may have to make up! It is very plain that such a question must be preceded by dealings leading up to love. A mother can say, "Lovest thou me?" to a child that never remembers the time when that mother's face was not the most familiar object. But the same woman cannot say to a strange child, on her very first meeting with it, "Lovest thou me?" She will have to do something before love can spring up. If we have not had experiences of repenting and of endeavoring to follow Jesus, it is vain for us to listen and wait, as if love to Jesus would spring up mysteriously without apparent cause.

II. LOOK AT THE QUESTION IN THE LIGHT OF THE "ME." In a few days Peter will have entered on a new and momentous chapter of life, where everything will depend on the completeness of his devotion to Jesus. He will not be of the slightest use if he is to be a man of divided interests and fluctuating attachments. He is to be a shepherd of the flock of Jesus, and it will take all his energy and all his care. The comparison is ever being instituted between the claims of Jesus and the claims of self. Jesus must be first and last, and all that lies between. If Jesus is just to tinge our lives with a superficial influence, and modify our selfishness a little, we shall do little indeed for his sheep. Why should we serve the world by candlelight when we can do it by sunlight? why by twilight, when we can do it by noonday? We are bound to do our very best for men, and we can only do it by being servants of Jesus. We do more than others, because we are able to do more.

III. LOOK AT THE QUESTION IN THE LIGHT OF THE "LOVEST." The feeling of love is seed and soft to everything else. Love binds the "thou" and the "me" together. Mere admiration of Jesus will do nothing. The love of Jesus is the only effectual fountain to wash away the selfishness continually rising in our hearts, and especially will the love of Jesus keep us from becoming weary of loving the loveless. The sin-stricken life, the heart polluted with evil thoughts and affections, needs love. Yet love is what such a life too often falls to get. We fall most naturally into speaking angrily and contemptuously of bad people. But a heart full of living love to Jesus, with him ever in observation, will love and pity the wicked far more than be angry with them. Whatever other good qualities we possess, love to Jesus must crown them. If only we can respond fully to this question of Jesus, we shall escape many an irritating thought, many a vexatious brooding over the meanness and duplicities of mankind. - Y.

The career of St. Peter is a striking instance of elevation from obscurity to fame. From a Galilaean fisherman he was promoted to the leadership of the college of apostles, and has for centuries been revered by a great part of the Christian world as the earthly head of the Church. The ardor of his love and the boldness of his confessions endeared him to the Master; yet his self-confidence and his temporary unfaithfulness grieved the Master's heart. In the singular alternations of feeling and conduct he reminds us of David in the older dispensation. Both have gained a position in human regard which the cold and blameless have failed to reach.

I. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG THE FAVORED GROUP ADMITTED TO WITNESS CHRIST'S GLORY AND HUMILIATION. Peter, James, and John were the favored three who beheld the glory of the Son of man upon the Mount of Transfiguration, and his woe in the garden of Gethsemane. Not only is his name mentioned first, but precedence in action is on both occasions referred to him. It was he who exclaimed upon the mount, "It is good for us to be here," proposing that tents should be reared for the illustrious visitors and for their Lord. It was he who, when the foes of Jesus would have arrested him, drew the sword in the Master's defense.

II. PETER WAS THE FIRST TO BEAR WITNESS TO THE LORD'S DIVINITY. What the others thought of Jesus at the time when he asked them, "Whom say ye that I am?" we do not know; but it is recorded that Peter promptly and boldly replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." His ready apprehension of his Lord's nature, dignity, and office gave rise to the cordial acknowledgments of him to whom he testified.

III. PETER WAS THE FIRST OF THE APOSTLES TO BEAR WITNESS TO CHRIST'S RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD. When on the evening of the day the disciples met, the subject for wonder and for rejoicing was that the Lord had appeared unto Simon. And Paul tells us that after his resurrection Jesus was seen first of Cephas. It is recorded that, upon receiving tidings from the women, Peter with John hurried to the empty tomb; it must have been soon after this that this apostle was favored with the interview twice referred to in the New Testament.

IV. PETER WAS THE FIRST, AFTER THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO HIS FELLOW-MEN. The record in the Book of the Acts is explicit upon this point. Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice and spake forth to the people, proclaiming the Lordship and Messiahship of the Risen One, and announcing through him remission of sins to the penitent and believing. In this be was the mouthpiece of the Christian community, and the leader of the great company who published the Word of the Lord.

V. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG CHRISTIAN CONFESSORS TO ENDURE AND DEFY THE RAGE OF THE PERSECUTOR. In the fourth and fifth chapters of the Acts we have the record of this apostle's boldness when confronted with the enmity of the rulers among the Jews. How dignified was his demeanor, how faithful was his testimony, how patient was his endurance of hostility and of persecution for Christ's sake, the author of that book makes abundantly apparent to every reader.

VI. PETER WAS THE FIRST AMONG THE TWELVE TO WELCOME THE BELIEVING GENTILES INTO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. First in the case of Cornelius, and then upon the occasion of what is called the Council of Jerusalem, Peter proved himself to be possessed with the Spirit of his Lord, in whom there is neither Jew nor Gentile. It was he, occupying a position of peculiar authority and advantage, who may be said to have thrown open the gates of the Church to those of Gentile descent. Paul was indeed the apostle of the Gentiles; but if we turn aside from the speculations of the "higher criticism," and confine our attention to historical facts, we shall see it was Peter who made it possible to widen the foundations of the Church, and, without endangering unity, to receive the believers in Christ from every race and nation into the enjoyment of equal privileges and hopes.

VII. PETER WAS THE FIRST CONCERNING WHOM IT WAS FORETOLD THAT HE SHOULD SUFFER A DEATH OF MARTYRDOM FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST. It is certainly very singular that our Lord should choose the moment when Peter made protestation of his love and devotion, and when he himself formally entrusted Peter with authority to feed the spiritual flock, as the moment for predicting his martyrdom, particularly foretelling by what death he should glorify God. His Epistles assure us that this language was not lost upon the faithful servant, but that he learned to rejoice in the prospect of partaking Christ's sufferings. - T.

There is something startling in this language of our Lord. God is the Giver of life; and death, according to the scriptural teaching, comes by sin. In life God is glorified. Yet, as Christianity transmutes dross into gold, it is credible that even death may tend to the Divine glory. In the case of Christians we can indeed see how this should be so.

I. THE CHRISTIAN, IN ORDER TO GLORIFY GOD IN DEATH, MUST FIRST GLORIFY HIM IN LIFE. Such was conspicuously the case with Peter, with regard to whom this language was first employed. Active energies were consecrated to no personal end of self advancement, but to the highest end of life. Similarly with every Christian, however lowly his position and however brief his career. The end crowns the work. He who lives well, dies well.

II. GOD MAY BE GLORIFIED BY THE CHRISTIAN'S DEATH, WHETHER THAT DEATH BE NATURAL OR VIOLENT. In the case of Peter, the language of Jesus evidently pointed to crucifixion as the mode of that apostle's end. And in the early age of Christianity there were evident reasons why many should be permitted to seal their testimony by their blood. But then and always the highest purposes may be secured by whatever mode of dissolution Divine providence allows. And a peaceful decease, though it may be less impressive upon men, may be equally acceptable to God, and perhaps even equally serviceable to survivors, as a triumphant martyrdom.

III. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH DEATH IS MET BY CHRISTIANS IS GLORIFYING TO GOD. This is emphatically the spirit of submission. Since men naturally shrink from dissolution, a principle of especial power is needed in order to overcome this tendency. On the part of some dying Christians there is something more than patient acquiescence; there is joy and even ecstasy in the prospect of being with Christ, which is far better. But even where such experience is wanting, there may be the manifestation of a truly submissive spirit. God is glorified in the patience of the saints.

IV. GOD IS GLORIFIED BY THE RESULTS WHICH THE CHRISTIAN'S DEATH PRODUCES UPON SURVIVORS. The consequences which flowed from the early martyrdoms have been generally acknowledged. It is proverbial that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." Even persecutors have been touched by the exhibition of constancy, fortitude, and expectation of glory which they have witnessed on the part of sufferers. And in how many instances have children traced their new and holier life to the dying confession and victory of their Christian parents! Christ's death was the life of the world; and the death of his followers is ever fruitful of spiritual and immortal good. - T.

Peter and John were the two among the twelve who were nearest to Christ, and they were peculiarly intimate in their friendship and congenial in their disposition. It was very natural that, when the risen Jesus had uttered so explicit a prediction concerning the future of the apostle - viz., that he should live to old age, and then should glorify God by enduring a martyr's death by crucifixion - a general desire should be aroused in the breasts of the disciples to know something of the future history and the end of John. Especially it was very natural that Peter should put to the Lord the question here recorded. Yet Jesus not merely declined to comply with this request, he even rebuked the questioner for his curiosity.


1. Of these one is good, viz. the natural desire to know, with which is conjoined that sympathy that transfers to another the feelings of interest first belonging to one's self. A person utterly indifferent to the prospects of his neighbors would be regarded as morally imperfect and defective.

2. On the other hand, there is something of evil in the springs of curiosity, inasmuch as this habit of mind arises very much from the tendency to remove attention from principles, and attach it to persons. He who thinks only of principles is pedantic, and his pedantry is blamed; but he who thinks only of persons and of what happens to them is curious, and his disposition is condemned as trivial and prying. Peter's question was evidently regarded by our Lord in this latter light.

II. THE MISCHIEF OF CURIOSITY. In two respects this mental habit is injurious.

1. There is a great danger of the curious man's attention being drawn away from what relates to himself and his own true welfare.

2. There is a further danger lest the curious man should yield to the temptation to indulge in gossip, and even in scandal. It is not easy to speculate much about the circumstances and prospects of others without talking about their affairs, and surmising with regard to matters upon which we have no means of exact knowledge.

III. TRUE REBUKE AND CURE OF CURIOSITY. The language of the Lord Jesus was very emphatic and very just.

1. Let every man remember his own personal responsibility. "Follow thou me," said Jesus to Peter. We are not accountable for our neighbors, but we are accountable for ourselves.

2. Let every man remember that, the ease of others is in the hands of Divine wisdom and beneficence. "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" said Jesus; i.e. fear not; he is cared for equally with thyself; a good hand is over him, and he shall not be forsaken. There is often good reason for us to bear in mind the somewhat sharp but very needful rebuke of Christ, "What is that to thee?" - T.

Tradition is the handing down from one person to another of what is not committed to writing. It is customary in those primitive societies where writing is unknown. It is practiced also in communities more advanced in civilization, when there is some special reason why it should be preferred to documentary preservation and transmission. That there was traditional teaching concerning our Lord's ministry is undoubted; and it has been disputed to what extent our Gospels embody such teaching. But this passage seems to have been inserted here as if to remind us how carefully coming ages of the Church have been preserved from a fruitful source of error.


1. In this case the saying concerning John was a saying of Christ, and as such might be supposed to be treasured with the greatest care and reverence.

2. It was uttered in the hearing of the select friends of our Lord, who, if any could do so, would guard it from corruption.

3. The apostles of Christ must have been the reporters of this saying to their fellow-Christians.

4. The person concerning whom the tradition went abroad was living at the time that the misrepresentation was repeated.

II. YET AN ALTOGETHER ERRONEOUS VERSION OF THIS SAYING WAS CURRENT IN THE EARLY CHURCH. Although Jesus had simply said to Peter, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" which might be simply a strong way of rebuking curiosity, or an intimation that John should survive until the destruction of Jerusalem; yet there went abroad a notion that Jesus had expressly assured his beloved disciple that he should never die ] Could there be a more remarkable perversion of the Lord's words? a more signal instance of the untrustworthiness of oral tradition? Yet, what happened then has often happened before and since. Passing from one man's lips to another's, facts may dissolve into fictions, and opinions may be reversed.

III. THIS INSTANCE SUGGESTS HOW WISE AND MERCIFUL AN ARRANGEMENT IS THAT BY WHICH THE GOSPEL IS NOT LEFT TO ORAL TRADITION, BUT HAS BEEN EMBODIED IN AUTHENTICATED DOCUMENTS. By inspiring his apostles to commit the gospel facts to writing, our Lord has secured us against the mischiefs attending tradition. The truth cannot be injured either by the zeal of friends or by the malice of foes.

PRACTICAL LESSON. Readers of the New Testament are hound in reason to accept and credit what there is no room for any candid inquirer to distrust. - T.

That the last two verses of this Gospel are not the composition of the evangelist whose name it bears is plain enough. But it is almost equally plain that this fact does not detract from their value, but, all things considered, rather adds to it.

I. IT IS EVIDENT THAT THIS GOSPEL WAS KNOWN TO THE CONTEMPORARIES OF THE APOSTLE JOHN. Whoever wrote these supplementary sentences, this appendix to the treatise, it is clear that the treatise itself was in his hands, and that he added his witness in the earliest age, and in all likelihood while the aged John was still living.

II. JOHN HIMSELF WAS KNOWN BY THE WRITER OF THIS APPENDIX TO BE THE AUTHOR OF THE GOSPEL. No one who is unprejudiced can suppose that this addition was made long after the writer was dead, and longer still after the death of the great Subject of the memoir. We have not here the record of an opinion; it is not the case of an anonymous Christian giving expression to his judgment that, as a matter of criticism, John was probably the author of the Gospel. "We know," he says - speaking for others as well as for himself - "that his [the beloved disciple's] testimony is true." They had doubtless heard many of the contents of the book from the lips of John himself, and they had doubtless heard the aged apostle acknowledge the authorship.

III. THE VERSE CONTAINS A GUARANTEE OF THE VERACITY OF JOHN. In stating that they knew that John's testimony was true, the guarantors and attestors must have been deliberately laying claim to independent sources of information. What more reasonable than to believe that they had seen and listened to some who had been witnesses of the Lord's death and of his resurrection-life? They may not only have entertained other apostles at Ephesus; they may have visited Jerusalem, and have seen those who in their youth had seen the Lord. In many ways they may have satisfied themselves that the records of John were not "cunningly devised fables;" that he had spoken what his eyes had seen and his ears had heard of the Word of life.

IV. THE WITNESS THUS BORNE TO THE GOSPEL CONFIRMS ITS CLAIM UPON OUR REVERENT ATTENTION AND FAITH. This was the intention with which the appendix was added. And as the interest and value of the document center in the Being to whom it mainly relates, we may justly acknowledge that we are under a moral obligation to study the testimony borne. The Gospel of John is to be treated as an ordinary book in so far that its acceptance as credible depends upon evidence of an appropriate and convincing character. But its contents are far from ordinary; they are so extraordinary that it is reasonable and right for the reader to look for a valid foundation for his credence. And inasmuch as the manifest purpose, the professed purpose, for which the Gospel was written was to produce faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall only receive the testimony of this unnamed but credible and veracious attestor so as to secure our highest enlightenment and welfare, if we are convinced that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. Even assent to historical truth is insufficient; for this is the means to an end, and that end is "saving faith." - T.

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