John 21:18
Truly, truly, I say to you, When you were young, you gird yourself, and walked where you would: but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall gird you, and carry you where you would not.
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(18) Verily, verily, I say unto thee.—This phrase is peculiar to St. John. (Comp. Note on John 1:51.) The remainder of the verse contains three pairs of sentences answering to each other:—

“Thou wast young,”. . . . “Thou shalt be old;”

“Thou girdedst thyself,”. . . . “Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee;”

“And walkedst whither thou wouldest,” . . . “And carry thee whither thou wouldest not.”

Thou wast young.—Literally, thou wast younger (than thou art now). Peter must have been at this time (comp. Matthew 8:14) in middle age.

Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee.—Do these words refer to the crucifixion of Peter? Tradition, from Tertullian downwards (Scorp. xv.; De Praescr. xxxv.), states that he was crucified, and, interpreting this prophecy by the event, asserts that they do. Tertullian himself so understood them, for he says, “Then is Peter girded by another when he is bound to the cross.”

But on the other hand, (1) the girding (with chains) would precede, not follow, the crucifixion; (2) it would be more natural to speak of another stretching forth his hands if the nailing them to the cross is intended; (3) the last clause, “carry thee whither thou wouldest not,” could not follow the stretching of the hands on the transverse beam of the cross.

It seems impossible therefore to adopt the traditional reference to crucifixion, and we must take the words, “stretch forth thy hands,” as expressing symbolically the personal surrender previous to being girded by another. To what exact form of death the context does not specify. We have thus in the second pair of sentences, as in the first and third, a complete parallelism, the stretching forth of the hands being a part of the girding by another, and the whole being in contrast to “Thou girdedst thyself.”



Annual Sermon to the Young

John 21:18 - John 21:19.

The immediate reference of these words is, of course, to the martyrdom of the Apostle Peter. Our Lord contrasts the vigorous and somewhat self-willed youth and the mellowed old age of His servant, and shadows forth his death, in bonds, by violence. And then He bids him, notwithstanding this prospect of the issue of his faithfulness, ‘Follow Me.’

Now I venture, though with some hesitation, to give these words a slightly different application. I see in them two pictures of youth and of old age, and a commandment based upon both. You young people are often exhorted to a Christian life on the ground of the possible approach of death. I would not undervalue that motive, but I seek now to urge the same thing upon you from a directly opposite consideration, the probability that many of you will live to be old. All the chief reasons for our being Christians are of the same force, whether we are to die to-night, or to live for a century. So in my text I wish you to note what you are now; what, if you live, you are sure to become; and what, in the view of both stages, you will be wise to do. ‘When thou wast young thou girdedst thyself, and wentest whither thou wouldest. When thou shalt be old another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.’ Therefore, ‘Follow Me.’

I. So, then, note the picture here of what you are.

Most of you young people are but little accustomed to reflect upon yourselves, or upon the special characteristics and prerogatives of your time of life. But it will do you no harm to think for a minute or two of what these characteristics are, that you may know your blessings, and that you may shun the dangers which attach to them.

‘When thou wast young thou girdedst thyself.’ There is a picture easily translated, and significant of much. The act of girding implies preparation for action, and may be widened out to express that most blessed prerogative of youth, the cherishing of bright imaginations of its future activity and course. The dreams of youth are often laughed at, but if a young man or woman be faithful to them they are the prophecies of the future, and are given in order that at the opening of the flower nature may put forth her power; and so we may be able to live through many a dreary hour in the future. Only, seeing that you do live so much in rich foreshadowings and fair anticipations of the times that are to come, take care that you do not waste that divine faculty, the freshness of which is granted to you as a morning gift, the ‘dew of your youth.’ See that you do not waste it in anticipations which cling like mist to the low levels of life, but that you lift it higher and embrace worthy objects. It is good that you should anticipate, that you should live by hope. It is good that you should be drawn onwards by bright visions, whether they be ever fulfilled or no. But there are dangers in the exercise, and dreaming with some of you takes the place of realising your dreams, and you build for yourselves fair fabrics in imagination which you never take one step to accomplish and make real. Be not the slaves and fools of your imaginations, but cultivate the faculty of hoping largely; for the possibilities of human life are elastic, and no man or woman, in their most sanguine, early anticipations, if only these be directed to the one real good, has ever exhausted or attained the possibilities open to every soul.

Again, girding one’s self implies independent self-reliance, and that is a gift and a stewardship given {as all gifts are stewardships} to the young. We all fancy, in our early days, that we are going to build ‘towers that will reach to heaven.’ Now we have come, and we will show people how to do it! The past generations have failed, but ours is full of brighter promise. There is something very touching, to us older men almost tragical, in the unbounded self-confidence of the young life that we see rushing to the front all round us. We know so well the disillusion that is sure to come, the disappointments that will cloud the morning sky. We would not carry one shadow from the darkened experience of middle life into the roseate tints of the morning. The ‘vision splendid’

Will fade away Into the light of common day,’

soon enough. But for the present this self-reliant confidence is one of the blessings of your early days.

Only remember, it is dangerous, too. It may become want of reverence, which is ruinous, or presumption and rashness. Remember what a cynical head of a college said, ‘None of us is infallible, not even the youngest,’ and blend modesty with confidence, and yet be buoyant and strong, and trust in the power that may make you strong. And then your self-confidence will not be rashness.

‘Thou wentest whither thou wouldest.’ That is another characteristic of youth, after it has got beyond the schoolboy stage. Your own will tends to become your guide. For one thing, at your time of life, most other inward guides are comparatively weak. You have but little experience. Most of you have not cultivated largely the habit of patient reflection, and thinking twice before you act once. That comes: it would not be good that it should be over-predominant in you. ‘Old heads on young shoulders’ are always monstrosities, and it is all right that, in your early days, you should largely live by impulse, if only, as well as a will, there be a conscience at work which will do instead of the bitter experience which comes to guide some of the older of us.

Again, yours is the age when passion is strong. I speak now especially to young men. Restraints are removed for many of you. There are dozens of young men listening to me now, away from their father’s home, separated from the purifying influence of sisters and of family life, living in solitary lodgings, at liberty to spend their evenings where they choose, and nobody be a bit the wiser. Ah, my dear young friend! ‘thou wentest whither thou wouldest’ and thou wouldest whither thou oughtest not to go.

There is nothing more dangerous than getting into the habit of saying, ‘I do as I like,’ however you cover it over. Some of you say, ‘I indulge natural inclinations; I am young; a man must have his fling. Let me sow my wild oats in a quiet corner, where nobody will see the crop coming up; and when I get to be as old as you are, I will do as you do; young men will be young men,’ etc., etc. You know all that sort of talk. Take this for a certain fact: that whoever puts the reins into the charge of his own will when he is young, has put the reins and the whip into hands which will drive over the precipice.

My friend! ‘I will’ is no word for you. There is a far diviner and better one than that-’I ought.’ Have you learnt that? Do you yield to that sovereign imperative, and say, ‘I must, because I ought and, therefore, I will’? Bow passion to reason, reason to conscience, conscience to God-and then, be as strong in the will and as stiff in the neck as ever you choose; but only then. So much, then, for my first picture.

II. Now let me ask you to turn with me for a moment to the second one-What you will certainly become if you live.

I have already explained that putting this meaning on the latter portion of our first verse is somewhat forcing it from its original signification. And yet it is so little of violence that the whole of the language naturally lends itself to make a picture of the difference between the two stages of life.

All the bright visions that dance before your youthful mind will fade away. We begin by thinking that we are going to build temples, or ‘towers that shall reach to heaven,’ and when we get into middle life we have to say to ourselves: ‘Well! I have scarcely material enough to carry out the large design that I had. I think that I will content myself with building a little hovel, that I may live in, and perhaps it will keep the weather off me.’ Hopes diminish; dreams vanish; limited realities take their place, and we are willing to hold out our hands and let some one else take the responsibilities that we were so eager to lay upon ourselves at the first. Strength will fade away. ‘Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fail.’ Physical weariness, weakness, the longing for rest, the consciousness of ever-narrowed and narrowing powers, will come to you, and if you grow up to be old men, which it is probable that many of you will do, you will have to sit and watch the tide of your life ebb, ebb, ebbing away moment by moment.

Self-will will be wonderfully broken, for there are far stronger forces that determine a man’s life than his own wishes and will. We are like swimmers in the surf of the Indian Ocean, powerless against the battering of the wave which pitches us, for all our science, and for all our muscle, where it will. Call it environment, call it fate, call it circumstances, call it providence, call it God-there is something outside of us bigger than we are, and the man who begins life, thinking ‘Thus I will, thus I command, let my determination stand instead of all other reason’; has to say at last, ‘I could not do what I wanted. I had to be content to do what I could.’ Thus our self-will gets largely broken down; and patient acceptance of the inevitable comes to be the wisdom and peace of the old man.

And, last of all, the picture shows us an irresistible approximation to an unwelcome goal: ‘Another shall carry thee whither thou wouldest not.’

Life to the old seems to you to be so empty and ashen grey that you wonder they care to live. But life to them, for all its disappointments, its weariness, its foiled efforts, its vanished hopes, its departed companions, is yet life, and most of them cling to it like a miser to his gold. But yet, like a man sucked into Niagara above the falls, they are borne on the irresistible, smooth flood, nearer and nearer to the edge of the rock, and they hear the mighty sound in their ears long before they reach the place where the plunge is to be taken from sunshine into darkness and foam.

So ‘when thou shalt be old’ your fancy will be gone, your physical strength will be gone, your freshness will be gone, your faculty of hoping will work feebly and have little to work on; on earth your sense of power will be humbled, and yet you will not want to be borne to the place whither you must be borne.

Fancy two portraits, one of a little chubby boy in child’s dress, with a round face and clustering curls and smooth cheeks and red lips, and another of an old man, with wearied eyes, and thin locks, and wrinkled cheeks, and a bowed frame. The difference between the two is but the symbol of the profounder differences that separate the two selves, which yet are the one self-the impetuous, self-reliant, self-willed, hopeful, buoyant youth, and the weary, feeble, broken, old man. And that is what you will come to, if you live, as sure as I am speaking to you, and you are listening to me.

III. And now, lastly, what in the view of both these stages it is wise for you to do.

‘When He had spoken thus, He saith unto him, Follow Me.’ What do we mean by following Christ? We mean submission to His authority. ‘Follow Me’ as Captain, Commander, absolute Lawgiver, and Lord. We mean imitation of His example. These two words include all human duty, and promise to every man perfection if he obeys. ‘Follow Me’-it is enough, more than enough, to make a man complete and blessed. We mean choosing and keeping close to Him, as Companion as well as Leader and Lord. No man or woman will ever be solitary, though friends may go, and associates may change, and companions may leave them, and life may become empty and dreary as far as human sympathy is concerned-no man or woman will ever be solitary if stepping in Christ’s footsteps, close at His heels, and realising His presence.

But you cannot follow Him, and He has no right to tell you to follow Him, unless He is something more and other to you than Example, and Commander, and Companion. What business has Jesus Christ to demand that a man should go after Him to the death? Only this business, that He has gone to the death for the man. You must follow Christ first, my friend, by coming to Him as a sinful creature, and finding your whole salvation and all your hope in humble reliance on the merit of His death. Then you may follow Him in obedience, and imitation, and glad communion.

That being understood, I would press upon you this thought, that such a following of Jesus Christ will preserve for you all that is blessed in the characteristics of your youth, and will prevent them from becoming evil. He will give you a basis for your hopes and fulfil your most sanguine dreams, if these are based on His promises, and their realisation sought in the path of His feet. As Isaiah prophesies, ‘the mirage shall become a pool.’ That which else is an illusion, dancing ahead and deceiving thirsty travellers into the belief that sand is water, shall become to you really ‘pools of water,’ if your hopes are fixed on Jesus Christ. If you follow Him, your strength will not ebb away with shrunken sinews and enfeebled muscles. If you trust Christ, your self-will will be elevated by submission, and become strong to control your rebellious nature, because it is humble to submit to His supreme command. And if you trust and follow Jesus Christ, your hope will be buoyant, and bright, and blessed, and prolong its buoyancy, and brightness, and blessedness into ‘old age, when others fade.’ If you will follow Christ your old age will, if you reach it, be saved from the bitterest pangs that afflict the aged, and will be brightened by future possibilities. There will be no need for lingering laments over past blessings, no need for shrinking reluctance to take the inevitable step. An old age of peaceful, serene brightness caught from the nearer gleam of the approaching heaven, and quiet as the evenings in the late autumn, not without a touch of frost, perhaps, but yet kindly and fruitful, may be ours. And instead of shrinking from the end, if we follow Jesus, we shall put our hands quietly and trustfully into His, as a little child does into its mother’s soft, warm palm, and shall not ask whither He leads, assured that since it is He who leads we shall be led aright.

Dear young friends! ‘Follow Me!’ is Christ’s merciful invitation to you. You will never again be so likely to obey it as you are now. Well begun is half ended. ‘I would have you innocent of much transgression.’ You need Him to keep you in the slippery ways of youth. You could not go into some of those haunts, where some of you have been, if you thought to yourselves, ‘Am I following Jesus as I cross this wicked threshold?’ You may never have another message of mercy brought to your ears. If you do become a religious man in later life, you will be laying up for yourselves seeds of remorse and sorrow, and in some cases memories of pollution and filth, that will trouble you all your days. ‘To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.’John 21:18-19. Verily I say unto thee, When thou wast young, &c. — Peter being thus restored to the apostolical office and dignity, from which he had fallen by openly denying his Master three several times, Jesus proceeded to forewarn him of the persecutions to which he in particular would be exposed in the execution of his office; intending thereby to inspire him with courage and constancy. When thou wast young thou girdedst thyself, &c. — Our Lord seems to speak thus in allusion to the strength and activity which he had now showed in swimming ashore after he had girded his fisher’s coat upon him. But when thou shalt be old — He lived about thirty-six years after this; thou shalt stretch forth thy hands — To be nailed to the cross; and another shall gird thee — Such as were condemned to be crucified, were tied to the cross till the nails were driven in; and shall carry thee — With the cross; whither thou wouldest not — According to nature: to the place where the cross was to be set up. In other words, Instead of that liberty which in thy youth thou enjoyedst, thou shalt in thine old age be bound and carried to prison and to death. Accordingly, the evangelist adds, This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God — Namely, that he should suffer martyrdom, and die with his hands stretched out on a cross. Observe, reader, 1st, It is not only by acting, but also and especially by suffering, that the saints glorify God. 2d, That with regard to death, which we must all suffer, it is the great concern of every good man, whatever death he dies, to glorify God in it. And when we die patiently, submitting to the will of God; die cheerfully, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God; and die usefully, witnessing to the truth and goodness of religion, and encouraging others, we glorify God in dying. 3d, That the death of the martyrs was, in a special manner, for the glorifying of God. The truths of God, which they died in defence of, were hereby confirmed; the grace of God, which carried them with so much constancy through their sufferings, was hereby magnified; and the consolations of God, which abounded toward them in their sufferings, and his promises, the springs of their consolations, have been hereby recommended to the faith and joy of all the saints. When he had spoken this, he saith, Follow me — That is, as I now walk along, and show thereby that thou art willing to conform to my example, and to follow me, even to the death of the cross. Agreeably to this, the unanimous testimony of antiquity assures us that Peter was crucified.21:15-19 Our Lord addressed Peter by his original name, as if he had forfeited that of Peter through his denying him. He now answered, Thou knowest that I love thee; but without professing to love Jesus more than others. We must not be surprised to have our sincerity called into question, when we ourselves have done that which makes it doubtful. Every remembrance of past sins, even pardoned sins, renews the sorrow of a true penitent. Conscious of integrity, Peter solemnly appealed to Christ, as knowing all things, even the secrets of his heart. It is well when our falls and mistakes make us more humble and watchful. The sincerity of our love to God must be brought to the test; and it behoves us to inquire with earnest, preserving prayer to the heart-searching God, to examine and prove us, whether we are able to stand this test. No one can be qualified to feed the sheep and lambs of Christ, who does not love the good Shepherd more than any earthly advantage or object. It is the great concern of every good man, whatever death he dies, to glorify God in it; for what is our chief end but this, to die to the Lord, at the word of the Lord?When thou wast young - When in early life thou didst gird thyself, etc. The Jews, in walking or running, girded their outer garments around them, that they might not be impeded. See the notes at Matthew 5:38-41.

Thou girdedst - The expression here denotes freedom. He did as he pleased - he girded himself or not he went or remained, as he chose. Perhaps the expression refers rather to that time than to the previous period of Peter's life. "Thou being now young or in the vigor of life, hast just girded thyself and come freely to the shore." In either case the Saviour intimates that at the end of his life he would not be thus free.

When thou shalt be old - Ancient writers say that Peter was put to death about thirty-four years after this. His precise age at that time is not known.

Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands - When Peter was put to death, we are told that he requested that he might be crucified with his head downward, saying that he who had denied his Lord as he had done was not worthy to die as he did. This expression of Christ may intimate the readiness of Peter thus to die. Though he was not at liberty as when he was young, though bound by others, yet he freely stretched out his hands on the cross, and was ready to give up his life.

Another shall gird thee - Another shall bind thee. The limbs of persons crucified were often bound instead of being nailed, and even the body was sometimes girded to the cross. See the notes at Matthew 27:35.

Carry thee ... - Shall bear thee, or shall compel thee to go to prison and to death. This is not said to intimate that Peter would be unwilling to suffer martyrdom, but it stands opposed to the freedom of his early life. Though willing when compelled to do it, yet he would not seek it; and though he would not needlessly expose himself to it, yet he would not shrink from it when it was the will of God.

18, 19. When thou wast young—embracing the whole period of life to the verge of old age.

thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest—wast thine own master.

when … old thou shalt stretch forth thine hands—to be bound for execution, though not necessarily meaning on a cross. There is no reason, however, to doubt the very early tradition that Peter's death was by crucifixion.

Ver. 18,19. John 21:19 gives us the general scope of John 21:15, viz. that it was a prediction of that particular death by which Peter should die, which was (if we may believe what the ancients have generally reported, and we can have no other proof) by crucifying; in which kind of death the hands of the person crucified are stretched out and nailed to the cross. But which way he died we cannot certainly affirm. The evangelist assures us, that our Saviour spake these words with reference to that kind of death by which Peter as a martyr was to glorify God; nor is it any objection against his martyrdom, that our Saviour here saith, that he should be carried whither he would not; for he was not better than his Lord, whose spirit was willing, and flesh weak. Whether our Saviour by his command, Follow me, intended the imitation of him, his death, or the particular kind of his death, is uncertain; unless we will allow this text to be interpreted by John 13:36 2 Peter 1:14. Verily, verily, I say unto thee,.... A way of speaking often used by Christ, when about to deliver anything of considerable moment, partly to raise the attention, and partly for the more strong asseveration of what is spoken; and may have reference both to what went before, confirming Peter's declaration of his love, which would be demonstrated by dying for him, and the testimony of his omniscience, by foretelling his death, and the kind of it; and to what follows after, which contains an account of Peter in his younger years, and a prophecy of what should befall him in old age:

when thou wast young; not that he was old now, and capable he was of doing, and he did do but just now, what our Lord ascribes to his younger years:

thou girdest thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldst; that is, he could put on his clothes himself, and gird them about him with a girdle, as was the custom of the eastern nations, who usually wore long garments; and as he, a little before, had girt his fisher's coat about him, and walked where he pleased; denoting the liberty of his will in things natural and civil, which every man is possessed of, though not in things spiritual, without the grace of God; and also his power of doing what was most grateful to him, without being hindered by, or obliged to ask the leave of others:

but when thou shalt be old; implying, that he should live to a good old age, and be continued to be useful and serviceable in the cause of Christ, in preaching his Gospel, and feeding his lambs and sheep, as he did; for he lived to the times of Nero (c), under whom he suffered, about forty years after this:

thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee. This refers not so much to an inability through old age to gird himself, and therefore should stretch forth his hands, that another might with more ease do it for him, and which would be the reverse of his former and present case; for the word gird is used in another sense than before, and signifies the binding of him as, a prisoner with cords, or chains; so "girding", with the Jews, is the same as , "tying and binding" (d): but either to the stretching out of his hands upon the cross, when he should be girt and bound to that; for persons were sometimes fastened to the cross with cords, and not always with nails (e): or, as others think, to his carrying of his cross on his shoulders, with his hands stretched out and bound to the piece of wood which went across; though his being girded or bound may as well be thought to follow the former, as this: indeed, what is added best suits with the latter,

and carry thee whither thou wouldst not; to a painful, cruel, shameful, and accursed death, the death of the cross; not that Peter in spirit would be unwilling to die for Christ, nor was he; but it signifies, that he should die a death disagreeable to the flesh.

(c) Euseb. Eccl. Hist. l. 2. c. 25. (d) R. David Kimchi, Sepher Shorash. rad. (e) Lipsius de Cruce, l. 2. c. 8. Bartholinus de Cruce, p. 57. 112.

{3} Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou {c} girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall {d} gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest {e} not.

(3) The violent death of Peter is foretold.

(c) Those that took long trips, especially in the east and in those places where the people used long garments, needed to be girded and fastened up.

(d) He meant that kind of girding which is used with captives, when they are bound fast with cords and chains, as one would say, Now you gird yourself as you think best, to go where you want to go, but the time will come when you will not gird yourself with a girdle, but another will bind you with chains, and carry you where you would not.

(e) Not that Peter suffered anything for the truth of God against his will, for we read that he came with joy and gladness when he returned from the council where he was whipped, but because this will comes not from the flesh, but from the gift of the Spirit who is given to us from above, therefore he shows that there should be a certain striving and conflict or repugnancy, which also is in us, in all our sufferings as touching the flesh.

John 21:18. With the thrice-uttered βόσκε τὰ προβάτιά μου Peter is again installed in his vocation, and with solemn earnestness (ἀμὴν, ἀμὴν, κ.τ.λ.) Jesus now immediately connects the prediction of what he will one day have to endure in this vocation. The prediction is clothed in a symbolic form. Comp. Acts 21:11.

ὅτε ἦς νεώτερος] than now. Peter, who had been already for a considerable time married (Matthew 8:14), was at that time of middle age. In the antithesis of past youth and coming old age (γηράσῃς) the present condition certainly remains without being characterized; but this, in the vivid delineation of the prophetic picture, must not be pressed. Every expression of prophetic mould is otherwise subject to its “obliquity” (against De Wette). But the objection of the want of a simplicity worthy of Jesus (De Wette) is, considering the entire concrete and illustrative form of the prophecy, perfectly unjust. Note, moreover, that ὅτε ἦς νεώτεροςἤθελες is not designed with the rest for symbolical interpretation (refers perhaps to his self-willedness before his conversion, Euth. Zigabenus, Luthardt, or in the earlier time of youth, Lange; to the autonomic energy in his calling, Hengstenberg), but serves only as a plastic preparation for the prediction beginning with ὅταν δὲ γηράσῃς, as a further background, from which the predictive figure the more vividly stands out in relief.

ἐκτενεῖς τὰς χεῖρ. σου] Feebly stretching them out to the power of strangers, and therewith surrendering thyself to it. Then will another (undefined subject of the hostile power) gird thee, i.e. surround thee with fetters as with a girdle, bind thy body around with bonds, and convey thee away, whither thou wilt not, namely, to the place of execution (comp. Mark 15:22); for with ὅπου οὐ θέλεις: τῆς φύσεως λέγει τὸ συμπαθὲς καὶ τῆς σαρκὸς τὴν ἀνάγκην, καὶ ὅτι ἄκουσα ἀποῤῥήγνυται τοῦ σώματος ἡ ψυχή, Chrysostom. Note further, that as with the three clauses of the first half of the verse there is a complete correspondence formed by means of the three clauses of the second, namely (1) by ὅταν δὲ γηρ.; (2) by ἄλλος σε ζώσει; and (3) by οἴσει ὅπου οὐ θέλεις, the words ἐκτενεῖς τὰς χεῖράς σου form no independent point, but only serve for the illustration of the second, graphically describing the surrender into the power of the ἄλλος, who will perform the ζώσει (not the joy at being bound with fetters, Weitzel). All the less were the Fathers, and most of the later expositors (including Tholuck, Maier, De Wette, Brückner, Hilgenfeld, Hengstenberg, Baeumlein), justified in making ἐκτεν. τ. χεῖρ. σ. precisely the characteristic point of the prediction, and in interpreting it of the stretching out on the transverse beam of the cross, in which case we must then, if ἄλλος σε ζώσει is not, as designating passivity, to be volatilized into a general expression (Hengstenberg), refer the ζώσει to the binding to the cross before the nailing thereto (so already Tertullian, Scorp. 15), or again, to the girding round with the loin cloth (which, however, can by no means be historically proved by Ev. Nicod. 10, see Thilo, ad Cod. Apocr. I. p. 582 f.), as also Brückner and Ewald have done. It is decisive against the entire explanation, referring it to the crucifixion, that οἴσει ὅπου οὐ θέλεις would be quite incongruous not before but after the stretching out of the hands and girding,[286] and it must in that case be understood of the bearing to the cross by the executioner’s assistants (Ewald, comp. Bengel), according to which, however, in spite of this very special interpretation, the reference of the stretching out of the hands to the crucifixion must be again given up, and there would remain only the above doubtful binding on of the girdle round the loins as a specific mark of crucifixion. Others (so especially Gurlitt and Paulus) have found nothing more than the prediction of actual weakness of old age, and therewith made of the saying introduced in so weighty a manner something that says nothing. Olshausen refers to youth and old age in the spiritual life;[287] Peter, that is to say, will in his old age be in manifold ways hindered, persecuted, and compelled against his will to be active then and there, of which experiences his cross is the culminating point. In a similar manner Tholuck: the apostle is given to understand how he, who had been still governed in the earlier period of his life more by self-will, will come more and more under a higher power, and will submit himself at last even with resignation to the martyr-death destined by God. Comp. Lange, and even Bleek, p. 235 f., who by the ἄλλος actually understands Jesus; a mistaken view also in Mayerhoff, Petr. Schr. p. 87. All such spiritual allusions fall to the ground in virtue of John 21:19, as, moreover, ὅπου οὐ θέλεις also is not appropriate, the supposed representation of complete surrender, and instead of it probably ὅπου ἄρτι οὐ θέλεις must have been expected. Unsuitable also would be ὅταν γηράσῃς, since in truth that spiritual maturity of the apostle could not first be a subject of expectation in his old age. Beza is correct: “Christus in genere praedicat Petri mortem violentam fore.” Nonnus: Ὀψὲ δὲ γηράσκων τανύσεις σέο χεῖρας ἀνάκγῃ· " καί σε περισφίγξουσιν ἀφειδέες ἀνέρες ἄλλοι, " εἴς τινα χῶρον ἄγοντες, ὃν οὐ σέο θυμὸς ἀνώγει. And beyond that point we cannot go without arbitrariness. Comp. also Luthardt and Godet.

[286] A resource has indeed been sought with Casaubon by referring ἐκτ. τ. χεῖρ. σ. to the circumstance that before the crucifixion took place the cruciarii were carried about “collo furcae inserto et manibus dispessis et ad furcae cornua deligatis,” Wetstein. But the girding, as it necessarily points to binding round the body, would be an inappropriate figure of the attaching the hands.—Logical subtleties cannot succeed in putting right the incongruity above alluded to, although Brückner has made the attempt.

[287] Comp. Euth. Zigabenus: to the life of Peter under the law, in which he has acted with self-will, the full maturity of the ἡλικία πνευματική is opposed, in which he will stretch out his hands for crucifixion, etc.John 21:18. To this command our Lord unexpectedly adds a reflection and warning emphasised by the usual ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι. It had been with a touch of pity Jesus had seen the impulsive, self-willed Peter gird his coat round him and plunge into the sea. It suggested to Him the severe trials by which this love must be tested, and what it would bring him to: ὅτε ἦς νεώτερος, “when thou wert younger” (the comparative used not in relation to the present, but to the γηράσης following) “thou girdedst thyself and walkedst whither thou wouldest,” i.e., your own will was your law, and you felt power to carry it out. The “girding,” though suggested by the scene, John 21:7, symbolises all vigorous preparation for arduous work. ὅταν δὲ γηράσηςθέλεις. The interpretation of these words must be governed by the succeeding clause, which informs us that by them Jesus hinted at the nature of Peter’s death. But this does not prevent us from finding in them, primarily, an intimation of the helplessness of age, and its passiveness in the hands of others, in contrast to the self-regulating activity and confidence of youth. The language is dictated by the contrasted clause, and to find in each particular a detail of crucifixion, is to force a meaning into the words. ἐκτενεῖς τὰς χεῖρας σου is not the stretching out of the hands on the cross, but the helpless lifting up of the old man’s hands to let another gird him. δοξάσει τὸν θεόν. “Magnificus martyrii titulus.” Grotius. “Die conventionelle Sprache der Märtyrerkirche klingt an in δοξ. τὸν θεόν; weil der Zeugentod zu Ehren Gottes erlitten wird.” Holtzmann. The expression has its root in John 12:23; John 12:28. καὶ τοῦτομοι. It is very tempting to refer this to John 13:36, ἀκολουθήσεις δὲ ὕστερον, and probably there is a latent reference to this, but in the first instance it is a summons to Peter to accompany Jesus as He retires from the rest. This is clear from what follows.18. Verily, verily] This peculiarity of S. John’s Gospel (see on John 1:51) is preserved in the appendix to it [13].

wast young] Literally, wast younger than thou art now. He was now between youth and age.

stretch forth thy hands] For help.

shall gird thee] As a criminal.

whither thou wouldest not] To death. This does not mean that at the last S. Peter will be unwilling to die for his Lord, but that death, and especially a criminal’s death, is what men naturally shrink from.

The common interpretation that ‘stretch forth thy hands’ refers to the attitude in crucifixion, and ‘gird thee’ to binding to the cross, is precarious, on account of the order of the clauses, the taking to execution being mentioned after the execution. But it is not impossible; for the order of this group of clauses may be determined by the previous group, and the order in the previous group is the natural one. The girding naturally precedes the walking in the first half; therefore ‘gird’ precedes ‘carry’ in the second half, and ‘stretch forth thy hands’ is connected with ‘gird’ rather than ‘carry’ and therefore is coupled with ‘gird.’ Or again ‘carry thee &c.’ may possibly refer to the setting up of the cross after the sufferer was bound to it: in this way all runs smoothly.

18, 19. This high charge will involve suffering and even death. In spite of his boastfulness and consequent fall the honour which he once too rashly claimed (John 13:37) will after all be granted to him.John 21:18. Ἀμὴν, ἀμὴν, verily, verily) Even after the Resurrection the Lord employed this most weighty formula.—νεώτερος, a comparatively young man) The comparative comprises the years of Peter, even as far as to the threshold of old age.—ἐζώννυες σεαυτὸν, thou didst gird thyself) as in John 21:7.—περιεπάτεις, and didst walk about) as in John 21:3, “I go a fishing.”—ὃπου ἤθελες, whither thou wouldest) So he had done in John 21:7.—γηράσῃς, thou shalt be old) Hereby it is indicated, that Peter would reach old age, 1 Peter 5:1, “I who am also an elder;” but not a great old age.—ἐκτενεῖς, thou shalt stretch forth) after the manner of those crucified, thine hands, so as that they may be made fast to the transverse beam of the cross.—σὲ ζώσει, shall gird thee) with a cord.—οἴσει, shall carry thee) to the stock of the cross, so as that thou mayest be fastened to it with thy whole body. They used to be bound to the cross, whilst the nails were fastened in. In antithesis to, thou didst walk about.—ὅπου, whither) namely, to the place where the cross is to be fastened into the ground. This passage must be so explained as not to apply to every kind of punishment [but to crucifixion only].—οὐ θέλεις, thou wouldest not) according to the prompting of nature [as contrasted with grace].Verse 18. - Verily, verily, I say unto thee. This form of address links the pre-resurrection life to that which follows, proclaims the identity of the being and the unity of the Person of the Christ under new conditions. More than that, much solemnity is conferred on this final word of the Master. When thou wast younger than thou art now; i.e. before thou camest under my sway; when thou wert supreme ruler of the fishing-fleet of Capernaum, with wife and family dependent on thee; when Andrew, James, and John (thy partners) were in a measure all doing thy will, following in thy train, submitting to thy behests, - thou girdodst thyself for whatever task was set before thee; thou hadst the choice of duties and pleasures; thou hadst time at thy disposal, thy method of service in thine own hands, even as now it was thy will to gird thee for the task of swimming to my feet (see Isaiah 45:5; Proverbs 31:17; 1 Kings 18:46; John 13:4, 5, διαζώννυμι; Luke 12:35-37; Luke 17:8; Acts 12:8, περιζώννυμι; 1 Peter 1:13, ἀναζώννυμι. The simple verb is used here in reference to all kinds of "girding"). So that the Lord reminds him of his natural self-will, so conspicuous and prominent, the secret of all his weakness and much of his individuality. And thou walkedst whither thou wouldest; or literally, thou wert in the habit of walking whithersoever thou weft willing or desiring to do; i.e. thine outward conduct, and the whole line of thy daily enterprise and duty, was not only an utterance of thine own self-mastery, but even thy wishes, the momentary waywardness of thy purposes, found immediate gratification. But a great change has come over thee; thou hast passed through a new experience. Already thou feelest that thou art not thine own; thy heart and strength, thy hands, thy feet, thy very girdle and sandal, are beginning to seem to thee no longer at thine own disposal. Thy self-will is checked, thy natural audacity and power of initiation are repressed into much narrower limits. Thou-hast found thyself weaker than a little child; thou art in need of this Divine principle of "love," deep and fervent, reverential as well as personal, not only to utter bold expressions of regard, but to form the very focus and new central force of thy whole being; and so it will come to pass that this new force will more than master thee; and when thou shalt be old and gray with years, thy service to that other and higher wilt shall be complete: thou wilt stretch forth thy hands in token of entire submission to the will of another, however it may be revealed to thee - whether at the instance of "the angel" or "Herod," of "Cornelius" or Nero's executioner! This remarkable phrase has often been supposed to mean the "stretching forth of the hands of the crucified" on his being appended to the cross. But such a process would follow rather than precede the "girding," which is, on such an interpretation, taken literally of the girding that preceded the nailing. There can be no doubt, from the language of St. John, that this was the final and forcible illustration of the new principle that would take full possession of Simon Peter. But meanwhile it was a long life of willing surrender to the Supreme Will which gives its highest meaning to these words. And another shall gird thee, and carry thee(or, bring thee) whither thou art not wishing to go. The old self-will, though it be indeed mastered, will not have utterly vanished. If it be not so, where would be the sacrifice? Even the blessed Lord himself said, "Not my will, but thine be done." Verily, even the sanctified nature of the sinless Man, prepared in the spotless womb of the blessed Virgin by the Holy Ghost, anointed by the Spirit, and in living absolute union with the only begotten Son, - even he was, in human consciousness, disposed to cry, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me," etc. We need not wonder, then, that to the very last, when the supreme will was manifested to Peter in the approaches of violent death, he should feel the will of the flesh thwarted. The exquisite legend embodied in the "Domiue, quo vadis?" (see John 13:33) confirms the entire representation of the character of Peter. So also does the story, preserved by Tertullian ('De Pries.,' 35; ' Ad Scorp.,' 15) and Eusebius ('Hist. Eccl.,' 3:1), that the apostle preferred crucifixion with his head downwards, on the plea that to be crucified as his Master was too great an honor for one that had denied his Lord. Young (νεώτερος)

Literally, younger. Peter was apparently of middle age. See Matthew 8:14.

Thou girdedst thyself (ἐζώννυες σεαυτὸν)

The word may have been suggested by Peter's girding his fisher's coat round him. The imperfect tense signifies something habitual. Thou wast wont to clothe thyself and to come and go at will.

Walkedst (περιεπάτεις)

Literally, walkedst about. Peculiarly appropriate to describe the free activity of vigorous manhood.

Stretch forth thy hands

The allusion to the extending of the hands on the cross, which some interpreters have found here, is fanciful. It is merely an expression for the helplessness of age.

Whither thou wouldest not

According to tradition Peter suffered martyrdom at Rome, and was crucified with his head downward.

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