John 21:18
Truly, truly, I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself and walked where you wanted; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."
Sermons
The Primacy of PeterJ.R. Thomson John 21:18
Youth and Age, and the Command for BothAlexander MaclarenJohn 21:18
Following ChristW. P. Lockhart.John 21:18-23
Glorifying God in DeathJ. F. B. Tinling, B. A.John 21:18-23
God Glorified in the Christian's DeathG. Clayton.John 21:18-23
Light on Peter's WayJohn 21:18-23
Love the Motive F or Following ChristPercy AnecdotesJohn 21:18-23
The Leading of PeterS. Hobson, M. A.John 21:18-23
The Prophecy and its Main LessonDean Goulburn.John 21:18-23
The True Service of Christianity to ManD. Thomas, D. D.John 21:18-23
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.







When thou wast young thou girdest thyself.
I. PETER'S FUTURE DESTINY DISCLOSED (vers. 18, 19).

1. The manner of the disclosure.

(1)Solemnly — "Verily, verily."

(2)Authoritatively. "I," who know all things, "say unto you."

(3)Feelingly. There can be small question but that Christ was deeply moved.

2. Its form. Not in literal but in veiled speech.

3. Its import.

(1)Indirectly a promise that Peter would attain a ripe old age, fulfilled in his death in A.D. 64.

(2)Directly a prediction that his career would terminate in martyrdom.

4. The reason for it. Perhaps —

(1)To indicate the necessity of maintaining the love he had just professed.

(2)To furnish him with an opportunity of wiping out his disgrace by doing as he declared he was willing to do (John 13:37).

(3)To set before him the highest honour he could win — fellowship with Christ, not only in publishing, but also in dying for the truth (Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 6:22; Acts 5:41; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 13:13; 1 Peter 3:14).

II. PETER'S PRESENT DUTY DECLARED (ver. 19).

1. The symbolical action. On saying, "Follow Me," Christ probably suited the action to the word, by turning and making as if to depart.

2. The spiritual significance. If this suggestion be correct, it is still true that Christ intended more than to invite Peter aside from the company. His summons was a call to follow Him —

(1)In official service.

(2)By personal imitation.

(3)As far as to death.

(4)Through the agonies of martyrdom.

(5)Into the world of glory beyond.

III. PETER'S CHARACTERISTIC IMPETUOSITY RESTRAINED (vers. 20-23).

1. Peter's question, "Lord, and this man! What of him?"(1) The occasion of it. Seeing John following, attracted, no doubt, by Christ's love for him ("the disciple whom Jesus loved"), and impelled by his love for Christ ("who also leaned," &c.).(2) The motive of it. Not jealousy, perhaps natural curiosity, most likely friendly interest in John.(3) The wrong of it. Not irreverent towards Christ ("Lord"), or unkind towards John, or sinful in itself (John 14:13); it was irrelevant, having no bearing on the subject in hand, which was Peter's duty, not John's destiny; and inquisitive, manifesting a concern in the affairs of others not required by brotherly love, if not bordering on the presumptuous, as seeking to be informed of secret things which belong to God.

2. Jesus' reply (ver. 22).(1) What it meant to Peter — rebuke. It did not belong to him to arrange, nor ought it to concern him to know (Acts 1:7). All this might be left with Christ. His duty was to follow Christ.(2) What it signified for John. Not that he should not die; merely that it might be Christ's will that he should tarry long upon the field of labour till Christ came again, not that it was; and that if it was it was a matter exclusively for John.Learn —

1. To Christ alone pertains the prerogative of appointing to His servants their respective spheres and experiences.

2. The future destinies of Christ's servants, as well as their present duties, are arranged by and known to Christ.

3. For the happiness of Christ's servants it is enough to apprehend present duty.

4. "Secret things belong to God," &c.

5. While Christ's servants may be bold in making known their requests, there are limits to their asking.

6. The strongest propelling power is love to Christ.

7. Christ's people are not exempt from misinterpreting His words.

8. When Christ's words are partly dark it is wise to keep to that in them which is plain, and to wait for further light.

(T. Whitelaw, D. D.)

When thou art old another shall gird thee, and carry thee.
The other, who was to lead Peter against his own will, is God with His powerful hand. This leading we trace in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter is forced to give up his ardent desire to gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel into the fold of Christ; Israel becomes not Israel; Peter is obliged to leave the holy city, which has only imprisonment and the sword to give to the servants of their King; to Samaria his sovereign Leader leads him, and into the house of the Gentile Cornelius, and at length to Rome, the new Babylon, from whence he strengthened the elect strangers of the dispersion whom Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, had brought into the fold of Israel, strengthened them in the enduring of persecution, and against the seductions of false prophets. From Jerusalem to Babylon — it went against nature. And this offering up of his own life, this becoming free from all will of his own, was to be crowned and to have its perfecting in the martyr's death, by which he should glorify God: then would he stretch out those hands which had been so active in his youth, to be bound to the cross; instead of the girdle of his youth, an executioner's rope would tuck up his garments (cf. Acts 21:11); instead of walking whither he would from one Pentecostal harvest to another, he should be lead whither he would not, to the painful and ignominious death of the cross.

(R. Besser, D. D.)

There is no question so generally discussed as this, and three classes give a wrong answer.

1. Those who maintain that Christianity has injured, rather than benefited, the race. They tell us that it has warped man's judgments, nurtured morbid sentimentality, sectionized society, and served the ends of superstition, priestcraft, and tyranny.

2. Those who maintain that it is one of the many elevating forces at work in society. They tell us that it is generally of service to man in a low stage of civilization; that, like the theories and superstitions of old times, it has its mission, which it will fulfil and then become obsolete, to be left behind as the race advances in intelligence and manly virtue.

3. Those who maintain that it does everything for man. They say that there is nothing good in the world but Christianity — none in nature, science, and the feelings of man without it; and that if a man has it, he needs nothing more. These conflicting sentiments raise the question, "Of what real use is it?" Let us look at this —

I. ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE. This incident suggests —

1. That Christianity does not counteract the natural changes to which man's physical life is subject. "When thou wert young," &c. Peter was a genuine disciple; but, nevertheless, Christ tells him, in effect, that Christianity in his soul would not prevent time wearing out his body, and that age incapacitates a man from executing his volitions. "When thou wert young thou couldst ply the oar, roam the fields, scale the hills; there was energy and flexibility in thy frame, by which thou couldst readily execute thy desires. But when thou shelf be old, although thy will shall be vigorous, thy executive power will be gone." Christianity will not prevent the bloom fading from the cheek, the brightness passing from the eye, the strength dying out of the limb. Christianity neither offers resistance to the regular course of nature, nor any atonement for her violations. This fact shows —(1) That physical sufferings are no criterion for individual moral states. Some of the best men are the greatest sufferers, and some of the most useful die in the zenith of life.(2) That Christianity respects the ordinances of nature. However you drink in the spirit of religion, and however consecrated you may be to its service, if you rebel against nature you must suffer.(3) That if the disciples of Christ would be physically happy, they must attend, like other men, to physical laws. If you are in want of physical comforts, it is of no use for you to sing, "The Lord will provide," and sit down in sloth.

2. That Christianity does not guard a man from the social oppressions of life. It is here foretold that Peter should die of crucifixion. His religion rather exposed him to the malice of men. Christianity teaches that if we will live godly, we must suffer persecution. This fact shows —(1) That Christianity can do without the favour of the world. It does not authorize the compromise of its principles to gain worldly patronage; but requires us to carry them out in their fulness and force, even against a world in arms.(2) That Christianity can do without the lives of its most devoted followers, rather than without their fidelity.

3. That Christianity does not solve the speculative problems of life. "Why am I thus to be dealt with? What is to become of John? Is he to be crucified also? or will he live the natural term of life?" To this Jesus replies, "What is that to thee?" There are many pressing questions to which Christianity offers no response but this, and for good reasons.(1) The encouragement of the sequestions would strengthen the speculative tendency rather than improve the heart. One answer would lead to another question, and so on interminably.(2) An answer would create emotions which would paralyze moral action. Supposing we knew what would happen to us and ours!(3) An answer would multiply the forces that divert us from practical godliness.

4. That Christianity does not invest us with an infallible judgment in this life (ver. 23). The disciples fell into a wrong interpretation of the Saviour's meaning. Christianity does clear and strengthen and guide the judgment, but does not render it infallible. If these "brethren" could make this mistake, much more their successors.

II. THE POSITIVE SIDE.

1. The incident suggests that it enlists Christ's interest in the history of His disciples. How do the Gospels display this? and it is now displayed in the prophecy of Peter's future, and his preparation to meet it. Is it nothing to enlist the interest of the Governor of the universe? Nothing that you have the interest of One —(1) Who knows the whole of the past, present, and future of your inner and outer life?(2) Who has ample power so to control the events of the outward life, and supply the aspirations of the inward as to crown your existence with perfect blessedness. What thought can be more soul inspiring and uplifting than this?

2. The incident suggests that it brings glory to God in the death of His disciples. It illustrates —(1) The mercy of God. Visit the death-bed of the genuine disciple; mark the calmness, resignation, and sometimes the triumphant rapture amidst physical anguish. It is mercy that sustains the spirit amidst the mysterious sufferings of dissolution.(2) The fidelity of God, who has promised to be with His people in the last hour. Is this nothing? To glorify God, to illustrate His perfections, is the end of creation, the duty and supreme aim of the holy in all worlds. Is it nothing for Christianity to enable poor, depraved men to do in death that which is the highest aim of the highest seraph.

3. The incident suggests that it gives a definite unity and attraction to all the duties of His disciples. What theories of human duty ethical sages have pro. pounded. How voluminous legal codes! But Christianity reduces all duties to "Follow thou Me." Christianity presents duty, not in dry propositions, but in a fascinating life. In Christ we see it in the most perfect, attractive, and practicable forms. Is this nothing?

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

In His old age the Apostle was to be crucified — made to stretch forth his hands upon the transverse beams of the cross, and girded (or lashed round the waist) to the instrument of torture by a cord. Tradition says that he was crucified, at his own request, with his head downwards; in that case, the girding, or tying tightly, to the cross would probably be necessary, by way of keeping the body of the sufferer in its right position. This is in all probability the reference of the words, "another shall gird thee," though perhaps some will prefer to see in them nothing more than an allusion to the binding of the Apostle previously to his being led away to execution. But putting aside their original and literal meaning, the words lend themselves very well to a secondary application. They may be regarded as a striking parable of human life in its two great periods of youth and old age. Youth is full of enterprize, energy, hope, vigour, prompt in forming schemes, and active in carrying them into execution; when emancipated from the restraints of boyhood, it exults in its independence, and feels that it is the master of its own destiny. "When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldest." But old age is the season of helplessness and dependence; "another is called in to perform the most necessary offices, and to supply our lack of service towards our own failing frames; the very old have to be led, fed, apparalled by others, and the end is, that they are carried whither (according to the flesh) men cannot but shrink from going."

(Dean Goulburn.)

These words spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God.
I. DEATH IS INEVITABLY CERTAIN. All men must submit to its destroying stroke; for "it is appointed unto all men once to die." Christians themselves are not exempted from it. Peter and Paul and John died. Death is certain.

1. In consequence of the original sentence which has been pronounced upon our apostate race.

2. The constant reiteration of this fact demonstrates the certainty of man's mortality.

3. Constituted as human nature now is, it is impossible that we should enter upon the spiritual employments and blessedness of the heavenly world. The mind in its disembodied state is capable of entering upon the enjoyments and employment of heaven; but the body made up of decaying and material particles, requiring the constant refreshment of sleep and food, and occasionally of medicine, would not be a meet companion for the mind in future bliss, unless it should undergo a previous process of dissolution and resurrection, so that it may become fitted to take its part in the worship, and felicities of a spiritual heaven. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." Either then there is the necessity of dying, or there is the necessity of undergoing a change, which is fully tantamount to dying.

4. The certainty of death will appear, if you consider the conformity which must be preserved between Christ the Head, and all the members of His mystical body. Jesus has died, and there is something of especial propriety that where the head has laid, there the members should lay.

II. THE SPECIFIC FORM AND MANNER OF OUR DEATH IS WISELY PREDETERMINED AND ARRANGED BY GOD.

1. There is a great variety of forms and modes in which the life of man is terminated. Some quit the world naturally, and others violently; some suddenly, and others by lingering steps. This depends very much on the particular conformation of the frame, on the habits of life,and a variety of incidental circumstances. Some are called to depart by diseases of the lungs, other by affections of the heart. Amidst all this vast variety of liabilities, it is wonderful that our frame exists as we find it, and that we are so long kept from the grasp of death.

2. This is not left to the choice of the subjects of this great change, nor to the volition of others, nor to mere chance and accident. God knows and God predetermines, not only the event of your death and the time, but the exact form and character. "My times are in thy hand." He could signify it to you but it is wisely concealed. "We know not at what hour the Son of Man cometh." Man may talk of certain constitutional predisposing causes, of primary organization, habits of life, accidents of infancy, &c., as all having a bearing and relation to the manner of our removal out of the world. But these are only so many of the minuter links in the great chain of cause and effect; and the first link of that chain is fastened to the throne of Deity.

III. HOW IT IS THAT THE CHRISTIAN DOES GLORIFY GOD IN HIS DEATH, IN WHATEVER PARTICULAR FORM IT MAY OCCUR.

1. He meets the first intimation of approaching dissolution with tranquility and resignation. There is an hour coming when he will observe no equivocal indications of the decay of the outward man; then does he not glorify God when he can say, I have no will of my own; here I am; let the Lord do with me as seemeth good in His sight.

2. By the avowal of a penitent mind. The sentiment of the publican becomes us in our last hour as well as in our initial moments — "God be merciful to me a sinner."

3. When he is enabled to exemplify a firm and unshaken confidence in the Redeemer as the object of his sole and undivided reliance. "I know whom I have believed," &c.

4. By their manifest detachment and disengagement of heart from the objects and interests of the present world. "Whom have I in heaven but thee?" &c.

4. When they are enabled to exemplify unwearied patience and submission amidst the pains and the sorrows of declining years.

5. By the devout spirit which he breathes while he lies upon the bed of death, waiting for his great change: for he who has lived much in the air of devotion while active, will carry the same spirit to the bed of death.

6. By the spirit of sweet and fervent charity which he is enabled to exemplify in his departing hours. In conclusion, permit me to ask you, Are you thus prepared to glorify God? In order to answer this let me propound another — Are you concerned to glorify God while you live? — for this is the best pledge and presage that you will glorify him when you come to die.

(G. Clayton.)

When dying of consumption the saintly Samuel Pearce of Birmingham remarked to his friends — "It was never till to-day that I got any personal instruction from our Lord's telling Peter by what death he should glorify God. Oh l what a satisfying thought it is that God appoints those means of dissolution by which He gets most glory to Himself. It was the very thing I needed; for of all the ways of dying, that which I most dreaded was by a consumption. But oh l my dear Lord, if by this death I can most glorify Thee, I prefer it to all others, and thank Thee that by this means Thou art hastening my fuller enjoyment of Thee in a purer world."

(J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)

Follow Me
These were Christ's first words to Peter (Matthew 4:19), and His last. They form the beginning and the end of Christian instruction, and on them hang all the law and the prophets. Moreover, the lesson was so continually enforced that when Peter came to write to his brethren he said, "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps." Consider —

I. SOME OF THE PREREQUISITES to compliance with this precept.

1. The will must be subjected to the will of Jesus. Many do not follow Christ, and the secret is they do not wish: they want to have their own way. A little relative of mine was being taught the Lord's prayer, and when he came to "Thy will be done," he said, "Why cannot I say 'my will instead,'" and so do many older children. We have a remarkable illustration of this in the case of Saul of Tarsus. Before the Damascus incident it was ever "My will." But the key-note of his whole after-life was struck when he said, "What wilt Thou?" &c.

2. The eyes must be opened. Blind Bartimaeus could not follow Jesus till He said, "Thy faith hath saved thee," &c. But "immediately" after he did so. So there are multitudes spiritually blind, who cannot tread in Christ's footsteps. Christ must open their eyes to see Him and whither He would lead them.

3. The affections must be aroused. "Lovest thou Me?" "Thou knowest that I love Thee."

II. THE FORCE OF THESE WORDS, especially as connected with the case of Peter. They were words of —

1. Solemn admonition.(1) Peter was a restored backslider; and part of the meaning to him would be, "All thy mistakes arose from not following Me." So the words have a retrospective use. Who can fail to trace his declensions to the same cause? But Christ would admonish us with regard to the future, "As all thy mistakes arose through not following Me, henceforth, therefore, follow in My steps." You know how often we have stood at the cross-road of life. Shall we go to the right or to the left? And what have we done? Trusted to our own judgment? Leant on the council of friends? Or thrown the reins on the neck of the steed of circumstances and let him guide us whithersoever he will? Or have we sought counsel of the Lord?(2) "But," you say, "how is a man to know the Lord's will?" Listen: "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." Those who fear Him are those who fear to grieve Him by the slightest deviation from the path He has marked out for them. God does not tell His secrets to everybody, nor do you. But there is such a thing as walking with the Lord so that He may direct our steps. "Shall I hide from Abraham, My friend," &c. Still how? In Isaiah 11:2 it is promised that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon us and make us of a quick understanding — scent or smell, as it is in the margin, just like that hound who can follow the game past this difficulty and that. So with the believer dwelling in close communion with his Lord. You know how the North American Indian can trace the trail of one who has passed through the forest, To us it would be nothing. There is the print of the mocassin upon the tender herb, or a slight displacement of the brushwood, and to the trained eye there is the path that has been trodden. So there is such a thing as having what Paul calls "our senses exercised to discern" — quick of sight to see the way, quick of ear to hear "this is the way, walk ye in it."

2. Gracious encouragement. They were spoken to a man who had been probed and tested. How many misgivings he must have had till this invitation was given! It was like the father encouraging his child to take the leap having first jumped himself, and then on the hither bank saying, "Follow me." Thus Jesus speaks through our doubts and fears. So in regard to work. Never mind what the Mrs. Grundy's say, "Follow Christ."

3. Faithful warning. One of the most striking evidences of Christianity is its honesty. When the recruiting officer goes into the villages he talks of the glories of a soldier's life, of the prospect of promotion, but never of the work in the trenches, the marches under a burning sun, and the agonies of the battlefield. But here comes a new religion seeking to win men and promising them persecution, trial, conflict — nothing concealed. So the Lord says to Peter, "Follow Me, but remember that you will die a martyr's death." The application to us is — Christ does promise us things inestimably dear, but He bids us count the cost. No cross, no crown. "If any man will come after Me," &c.

(W. P. Lockhart.)

Percy Anecdotes.
Francis I. of France had not reached his twentieth year when he was present at the celebrated battle of Marignan, which lasted two days. The Marshal de Trivulce, who had been in eighteen pitched battles, said that those were the play of infants; but that this of Marignan was the combat of giants. Francis performed on this occasion prodigies of valour: he fought less as a king than as a soldier. Having perceived his standard-bearer surrounded by the enemy, he precipitated himself to his assistance in the midst of lances and halberts. He was presently surrounded; his horse pierced with several wounds; and his casque despoiled of its plumes. He must have been inevitably overwhelmed, if a body of troops detached from the allies had not hastened to his succour. Francis hazarded this battle against the advice of his general; and cut short all remonstrance by the celebrated expression, which became afterwards proverbial, "Let him that loves me follow me."

(Percy Anecdotes.)

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