And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them.…
First we learn the possibility of perfect repentance after grace has been forfeited; of a return to God from sin committed after special favours and gifts of love. Further, there was a wonderful mercy overruling St. Peter's fall, bringing out of it even greater good. It was made to teach him what otherwise he seemed unable to learn. He needed to learn distrust of self. And thou who despondest at some past fall, hast thou no similar lesson to learn of deeper humility, of closer dependence on God? Hast thou had no self-trust? Has thy strength always been in prayer and watching? And the key-note of his Epistles is — "Be clothed with humility." "Be sober, and watch unto prayer." May not this be thy case — that the foundations of thy life need to be laid lower, in a more perfect self-abasement; a deeper humility: a more entire leaning upon God, a more complete abandonment of all high thoughts, independence of will, self. glorying, vanity, spirit of contradiction, and such-like; that beginning afresh, these hindrances being removed, thou mayest hide thyself from thyself, hide thyself in a perpetual recollection of the Divine presence and support, as the only stay and safeguard of thy frail, ever-falling humanity? Moreover, St. Peter is not merely the assurance to us of the possibility of a perfect restoration after falling from God, he is also the model of all true penitents. The first main element of St. Peter's recovery was a spirit of self-accusation, a ready acknowledgment of sin and error. Here, then, is one essential element of true repentance — self-accusation at the feet of Jesus. And how needful a lesson to learn well. The saddest part of our sin is, that we are so slow to confess it. Sin ever gathers round it an array of self-defences. Subtleties and evasions, special pleadings, shrinkings from humiliation, lingerings of pride, all gather round the consciousness of sin, and rise up instantly to hinder the only remedy of guilt, the only hope of restoration. Again, from St. Peter we learn that faith is a main element of restoration, preserved to him through the intercession of his Lord — "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." Now faith is not the belief of any particular dogma, nor is it the same as a spirit of assurance, neither is it any peculiar feeling appropriating some special promise; but it is the bent, the aim of the whole soul. It is the prevailing direction of all the powers of man toward God; it is the apprehension of the inner man embracing, grasping the invisible; living in things which are unseen and eternal, and raising him out of the sphere of sight which lives in things that are temporal. Faith may lay hold of one particular promise at one time, of another at another. And thus he had learnt to regard sin in the light of another world — sin abstractedly in itself, as a loss of spiritual life, as a thing abhorrent to God, as an utter contrariety to all that his soul was aspiring after. To rise thus above all the worldly consequences of sin, all its mere temporal effects, to read one's sin in the light of God's countenance, to view it as we shall view it on our death-bed, stripped of all accidents, with its awful consequences, as we pass into eternity — this is the attribute of faith; and through the preservation of his faith, as our Lord assures us, St. Peter arose from his fall. Oh! how much need have we to pray, "Lord, increase our faith"; that we may see our sins in their true form and colour. The sense of sin depends on our view of sanctity. As we grow better, we see sin clearer. As we have more of God, we realize evil more vividly. The greatest saints are therefore the deepest penitents. The bright light of purity in which they live sets off more vividly the darkness of the spots which stain the field of their souls' life. The more they advance, the more truly they repent. As, e.g., we see more the power of truth, the more we are ashamed of our deceits. As we perceive love and largeness of heart, so we despise our selfishness. The more God shines into us, the more we loathe our own vileness. We judge by the contrast. There is one more feature of a true repentance which is exhibited in St. Peter. His repentance turned upon his love of the person of Christ. This had been long the moving principle of his life. His indignation at the idea of his Master's suffering: his refusing to be washed before the administration of the blessed Sacrament; his taking the sword, and then striking with it; his entering the judgment-hall — were all impulses of a fervent, though unchastened, love — a love to our Lord's person. And this was the secret power of that look which our Lord, when He turned, cast upon him. It may seem as though St. Peter's love to our Lord were too human, too much that of a man toward his fellow. It did indeed need chastening, increased reverence, more of that deep, adoring awe which St. John earlier learnt; and which St. Peter learnt at last in the shame and humiliations of his fall. But love to our Lord must needs be human — human in its purest, highest form. The Incarnation of God has made an essential change in the relations between God and man, and so in the love that binds us. He took our nature, and abideth in that nature. He is Man eternal, as He is God eternal. He loves, and will evermore love us, in that nature, and through its sensations, and He draws us to love Him through the same nature, with the impulse of which humanity is capable. He loved with a human love, and He is to be loved in return with a human love. He consecrated the human affections to Himself in His human form as their proper end, so that through His humanity they might centre upon the eternal Godhead. Love is of the very essence of repentance, and love is ever associated with a person, and the true movement of the deepening and enduring love of penitents circles around the Person of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In conclusion, I would briefly point out two habits of devotion necessary to be cherished, in order that the grace of such a repentance as we have been contemplating may be the more worked in us. One is the habit of meditation on the Person of Jesus Christ. Again, love can be cherished only by habitual intercourse, or ever-renewed inward feeding on the beloved object. If there be no converse, or communion of thought, love must decline and die. And how can an invisible person become the object of love, except by inward contemplation? But it is not in the nature of the human heart to love another, unless that other become a constant companion, or unless his beauty and amiableness become strongly impressed on the soul, and be borne always in remembrance. The grace of God moves and operates according to the laws of humanity. Grace is above nature, but it is according to nature. It acts on nature, and raises nature up to the level of God, but is human still. What, then, would stir the heart to love according to nature, the same will stir the heart to love above nature. And what is this but the contemplation of the object, followed by an habitual feeding upon it? The second point is this: we must learn to measure the guilt of our sins by the sorrows of God in the flesh. We have no proper rule of our own by which to measure the guilt or sin. Sin has ruined this lower creation of God. Sin brought the flood and the fire of Sodom, and it has in its train disease, and famine, and war. It has created death, and made death eternal. All these are as certain rules and proportions by which we can form some estimate of the guilt of sin. But they are partial and imperfect measures, after all. The only true and adequate measure is the blood of God Incarnate and the sorrows of His sacred heart. Learn, then, to look at sin in this connection — not sin in the aggregate, but individual sins. Measure by this price the special besetting sin of thy nature. Weigh it in the scale against the weight of the sacrifice which bowed to the cross the Incarnate God.
(Canon T. T. Carter)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them.