Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat.
Luke 22:31, 32 (first part)
I. THE DESIGNS THAT ARE LAID AGAINST US. It was evidently in a very solemn and earnest strain that Jesus said, "Satan desired to have you [plural], that he may sift," etc. The evil one longed with eagerness, and strove with strength, to pass the apostles of Christ through the sieve of temptation, that he might compass their overthrow. And Peter, at a later hour, tells us that that is his attitude and habit in regard to all Christian disciples (1 Peter 5:8). We may take it that:
1. All the unholy intelligences of the spiritual realm are bent on securing our overthrow.
2. In this malign intention they are supported by human agents. And this, not only because evil naturally propagates evil, and because the wicked feel stronger and more secure as they are more numerous, but because they recognize the value of one human spirit and the advantage secured by gaining it to their side. Hence there is a deliberate and determined design often made upon the individual man by the forces of evil. This is a fact by no means to be overlooked. As we go on our heavenward way there may be an ambush laid for us at any point; at any time strong spiritual foes may do their utmost to contrive our fall. The possibilities of evil and of ruin are manifold. We may fall by error and unbelief, by pride, by selfishness, by worldliness and vanity, by intemperance or impurity, by departure in spirit from the fear and love of God. There is room, there is reason, for vigilance on the part of him who believes himself well on the way toward or even nearing the gates of the celestial city.
II. THE SOLICITUDE OF OUR SAVIOUR ON OUR BEHALF. "I have prayed for thee." The strain of our Lord's address, "Simon, Simon," and the fact of his interceding on Peter's behalf, speak of a tender solicitude on his part for his disciple. Jesus knew well all Peter's infirmities; but he also knew how ardently he could love, how devotedly he could serve, how much he could be. Hence the intensity of his desire that he would not be overcome. And for this reason we may be sure that our Lord is regarding us all with a Divine interest. He knows the worth of any and every human spirit - how much it can know and can enjoy; whom and what it can love; what graces it can illustrate, and what truth adorn; what influence it can instil; what good, and even great, work it can accomplish for God and man. He knows also what sorrow it may bring upon itself, what shame, what ruin; and also what irreparable injury it may do. We need not hesitate, but should accustom ourselves to think that Jesus Christ is regarding us with a very tender interest; is following the choices we are making and the course we are pursuing with holy and loving solicitude; is grieved when he sees us wander from the way of wisdom, rejoices in us and over us when he sees us take the upward path.
III. THE REALITY OF OUR HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY. Jesus Christ prayed that Peter's faith might not fail. And it did not - we should naturally expect. But in part it did. It did not utterly break down as that of Judas did, but it failed to keep him loyal in a very trying hour. It did not save him from the act of denial and from the sorrow which succeeded the sin. It did not in any way relieve the apostle of his individual responsibility. He continued to "bear his own burden," as every man must. Not the very highest privilege, not even the intercession of the Lord himself, will relieve us of that. It must rest with us, in the last resort, whether we will strive and win, or whether we wilt yield and be lost. - C.
Satan hath desired to have you.
I. We must begin with THIS WARNING.
1. See in it our Lord's knowledge of the invisible world. We know nothing of Satan but what we are told. But the Lord Jesus does see him as he goes about and He not only sees him, He can look into his heart and discern the secret purposes and desires of it.
2. See next here the crafty policy of Satan. "He hath desired to have you," our Lord says; "you especially; you, believers in Me, rather than the Jews or heathen around you; you, My most beloved disciples," etc. Why? Because they stood more in his way than any others.
3. We may see here the limited power of Satan. He cannot touch one of these men without God's permission.
II. Leaving now the other disciples, let us look at THE EFFECT OF THIS WARNING ON ONE OF THEM, PETER. "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you."
1. Observe, that it excited his love. If mere feeling could have made a martyr, Peter was already prepared to be one.
2. And observe again — this warning did not shake Peter's self-confidence. And yet it was given in a manner calculated to shake it. It made no impression on him or a very faint one.
3. And mark again — this warning did not prevent Peter's fall.
III. We may come now to another point in the text — THE TENDER MERCY OF OUR LORD TO PETER NOTWITHSTANDING HIS SELF-SUFFICIENCY AND FALL, or rather, in anticipation of his self-sufficiency and fall. "I have prayed for thee," He says, "that thy faith fail not."
1. We must be struck at once, I think, with the lowliness of this language. Our Lord has been speaking just before in the almost unveiled dignity of the Godhead. He has been manifesting, too, a knowledge of Satan and a knowledge of the human heart such as none but the infinite Jehovah can possess; and yet when His fallen apostle is to be rescued, what does He say? "I will rescue him"? or, as in Paul's case, "My grace is sufficient for him"? No; He speaks now as a feeble man; "The mighty God only can rescue him. I have prayed for him." What a view does this give us of our Lord's humility! And what a view, too, of the awful nature of sin! of the difficulty of extricating even a servant of God out of it!
2. Observe, too, the peculiar tenderness of His love for those who are peculiarly tempted.
3. And there is the intercession of our Lord to be noticed here — its influence on our preservation from sin or recovery from it. Faith lies at the root of every grace. It is that within us which first lays hold of the Lord Jesus, and it is that which keeps hold of Him. It seems the lowest, the poorest, and meanest of all graces, but it is notwithstanding the most active and operative of all; it secretly does the most.
(C. Bradley, M. A.)I. THE CHARACTER OF PETER. The character of Peter is a very marked one. His character stands out in bold prominence and relief, like an object situated on a height, and seen between us and a clear sky. We notice at once his natural sincerity and boldness, his vehemence and self-confidence; his liability to be hurried away by the tide of events and the current of prevailing feeling. We perceive that as a disciple of Christ he is under the guardian care and grace of heaven; but we discover sin lurking within, and bursting forth from time to time as the liquid fire of the volcano breaks out from the mountain whose surface may be covered with the loveliest foliage. His love to Jesus was genuine and sincere — for with all his failings Peter was no hypocrite; yet he not infrequently resists the will of his Master, and at times is positively ashamed of Him. He is zealously affected in every good thing, but his zeal is often unthinking and impetuous, and proceeds from a self. confident and self-righteous rather than a humble and trustful spirit of dependence on God; and it comes forth when it should be restrained, and fails when it should flow.
II. TEMPTATION OF PETER BY SATAN. "Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat." We see that we are to regard our temptations as coming from Satan the tempter, the accuser. He who rebelled against God in heaven seeks to thwart His will on earth. "The devil entered into Judas Iscariot," whom he hurried from one crime to another till he laid violent hands on himself. May he not succeed also with his brother apostle? In tempting us Satan takes advantage of two circumstances. He employs the world to seduce us, and he addresses the corruption of the heart. First, he takes advantage of the circumstances in which we are placed, and of the worldly and sinful character of those with whom we mingle. Breathing as we do an infected atmosphere, we are apt to take in malaria which breeds moral disease.
III. THE RECOVERY OF PETER, THROUGH THE PRAYER OF JESUS SUSTAINING HIS FAITH. It is of vast moment that Christians should know wherein lies the secret of their strength. It lies first of all in the intercession of Christ, and secondly in their remaining faith.
1. It does not lie primarily in yourselves — in the liveliness of your feelings or the strength of your resolutions. Purposes formed in our own strength are like the writing upon the sand, which is swept away by the first breath of the tempest or the first swelling of the tide. The believer's steadfastness does not lie in himself, but in another. His strength is in the foundation on which he rests, and that foundation is the Rock of Ages. How was it that Peter was restored? The cause was to be found in the work of Christ. "I have prayed for thee." He was recovered, not by the meritorious power and efficacy of his own prayers, but by the prayers of Christ. When Peter was brought to repentance he prayed; but there is a previous question — What brought him to repentance? If Christ had not first prayed for him, he had never prayed for himself.
2. There was, however, a secondary power, and this was Peter's faith.
IV. THE COMMAND, "WHEN THOU ART CONVERTED, STRENGTHEN THY BRETHREN." In this conversion there was much searching. This we learn from the interview with which our Lord favoured Peter after His resurrection. " Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?" was the question; and Peter could answer. Brethren, according to the sins of which you are conscious, so let your love and zeal now be in the service of God.
(J. McCosh, D. D.)
I. And so we learn the great lesson from Christ, that DIFFICULTIES ARE AS NECESSARY AND BENEFICIAL FOR THE SOUL AS WINNOWING IS FOR THE WHEAT. The winds of temptation blow, and the poor, lightly-weighted souls are carried away; while the strong ones are stripped of many things in which they trusted, and the true power of principle becomes more evident in their lives. The question of the winnowing floor is always being repeated: Are you wheat or chaff?
1. There is the shifting of change of position, the pouring from vessel to vessel — a process under which the light grains are removed, and which finds its parallel in the change of life's demands. You are rich, and the question the next day is, Can you stand poverty? or you are poor, and the sudden access of prosperity tests your real ability and weight. Will the one rob you of your spirit, or the other of your humility? If they will, then you have been sifted with the result of proving that you are but chaff. Changes from joy to sorrow or from sorrow to joy, from light to dark or from dark to light — those have revealed the substance of many a man to us; and we have said, "I thought that he could stand it better," or we have exclaimed, "What a noble man he is! He is just as he was before, not puffed up by his exaltation, not broken by dejection."
2. And there is the sifting of progress: ideas and men all pass through that. New tests are applied, just as ever new sieves, with closer and closer meshes, wait for the falling grain with sharper discrimination at each stage of the process. The truth of one generation or one age of life is sifted before it is accepted by the next. Some accretion, some profitless protecting husk, is cast off, and the substance is more valuable than ever. The man finds, after life's experience, that not one particle of the truth as to honesty, virtue, and God has proved itself false, although he smiles at the childish conceptions which enshrined it for him, and which long ago passed away; and with each generation God's truth is made simpler and clearer to the eyes of all.
II. BUT WHAT HAS SATAN TO DO WITH IT? Satan rejoiced at the anticipation of this process and longed to see it begin, because he did not believe that Peter could stand it; he does not believe that any man can, and he longs, therefore, to see men come under the test. At first this sifting seems to give evil the advantage. But the meaning of those words of Christ's gradually comes out: "Fear not them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do." There is an ultimate kernel of life which the sifting cannot touch. It is a reality which defies all the processes of ultimate solution which can be brought against it. That is the belief which makes a man strong to endure temptation, brave to pass through all changes, courageous to march with all progress of ideas. It was to the soul that Christ spoke; on it all His work was based. When He had once seen that soul conscious of itself and of its power in the heart of a man, He was not afraid to let the world sift him, though he might be a man with as many weaknesses and foibles as Simon Peter. Let them be shaken off and blown away, like corrupting substances or infolding chaff. When that was all done the man remained.
III. I think, then, that we can understand that tone of confidence with which Jesus speaks of the trial which is to befall His great disciple. To His eye the conditions are not hopeless. He does not deprecate the struggle, but rather in it anticipates the defeat of Satan. But the tone of confidence is still more sublime when THE MEANS OF STRENGTH AND VICTORY are considered. The whole of the sifting process administered by its great master and confident authority, Satan, is to be brought to bear; and yet Peter will not succumb because Christ has prayer for him that his faith fail not. See how Christ puts Himself against the world. Through that prayer the life of Peter was made strong to bear the ordeal; through that prayer he was able to defy the world and Satan. That prayer told of the relation which He had established between that disciple for whom, and the Father to whom, it was offered. He stood between the two. The subject, the offerer, the receiver of the prayer, were one in their purpose and desire to overcome and baffle Satan. Defeat was impossible.
(Arthur Brooks.)1. The greatness or nearness of the danger. There are some souls that there is no delaying or dallying with them; but if ye will save them at all, ye must save them quickly; ye must deal roundly and nimbly with them if ever ye intend them any good. The Spirit of God, He speaks quick, and He speaks often, again and again, where He would prevent from danger.
2. The security of the person warned. Peter was not more in danger than he was insensible of his danger.
3. The affection of the Monitor or person that gives the warning; that is also in the doubling of the appellation. It is a sign Christ's heart was much in it, and that He bore a singular love and respect to Peter, in that He does thus passionately admonish him. Love is full of solicitude and carefulness for the party beloved. The matter of the admonition or the warning itself.
1. The persons aimed at. They are here said to be you. He spake before to Peter in the singular, Simon, Simon; now it is you, in the plural. To signify thus much unto us; that there's the same condition of all believers as of one. That which befalls one Christian it is incident to all the rest. The reason of it is this — because they all consist of the same natures, and are acted by the same principles.(1) You believers, rather than other men. Satan's aim is especially at such, to get them. As for wielded and ungodly persons, who are yet in their unregenerate condition, he has them already. And there are two considerations especially which do lay ground to this practice in him.(a) That absolute antipathy and hatred and contrariety which is in him to goodness itself, yea, to God Himself, who is the chiefest good. The devil, because he hates goodness itself, therefore he assaults it wherever he finds it.(b) It proceeds from that envy and pride which is in him.(2) You eminent believers rather than other Christians. This is the manner of Satan to cast his sticks most at those trees which are fullest of fruit; where he spies more grace than ordinary, there especially to lay his chiefest assaults. There is a double reason for it which does encourage him to it — First, it is the greater victory; and secondly, it is the greater advantage. He does more, both in it and by it. The use of this to ourselves is — First, to teach Christians not to trust to their own habitual graces nor to the number or measure of them. Secondly, we learn, hence, not to pass uncharitable censures upon the servants of God which are under temptations, as to conclude them therefore to be none of His servants.(3) You apostles and ministers rather than other eminent believers.
I. The DESIGN itself — Satan hath desired you. As here is Satan's restraint, so moreover his malice and boldness of attempt.
1. Here is implied Peter's ignorance and present unadvisedness. He was not aware of this attempt of Satan. So is it likewise with many others of God's servants. Satan does secretly lay siege unto their souls, and they do not discern it. It is a great piece of skill to know indeed when we are tempted, and to be apprehensive that we are under a temptation.
2. We see here also the love of Christ, who helps our ignorance in this particular, and advises us where we are less regardful
3. Here is also, as sometimes, the eminency and conspicuousness of the temptation.(1) To have you to corrupt you.(2) This were enough to make us look about us; that Satan would have us to corrupt us, but yet that is not all — he would have us to afflict us too. As Satan would weaken our faith, so also darken our comfort; and as he would draw us into sin, so likewise trouble us and torment us for it.
II. The AMPLIFICATION of it. And to sift or winnow you as wheat.
1. Take it in an ill sense; as Satan's intent, so to winnow you, is to shake and remove you. This expression shows the unweariedness of Satan in his attempts upon the godly, and his several courses which he takes with them, to annoy them. He shifts them and he removes them from one temptation to another. But —
2. It may also be taken in a good sense; and so, as expressing to us the event of Satan's practices, though beyond his own desire and intention. The winnowing of the corn in the fan, it is not for the hurt of it, but for the good of it. And they fit them also for future service. We see here how also God outwits Satan and destroys his own plots by himself.
(J. Horton, D. D.)I. THE DISCRIMINATION WHICH OUR LORD MAKES IN PRAYING FOR HIS DISCIPLES. Why single out Simon for this peculiar distinction? Because he was the weakest, the most in danger, the most liable to fall. His rashness and impulsiveness would expose him to the fiercest assaults, and render him least able to resist. Let us learn from this that the easily tempted ones are they to whom Christ's sympathy and helpfulness go out in most tender interest.
II. THE NATURE OF THE HELP WHICH CHRIST GAVE TO PETER IN HIS PERIL.
1. Notice the individuality of this intercession. "For thee." Each one of us is the object of Christ's particular watchfulness and care.
2. Christ made His supplication before the danger came. "I have prayed." He did not wait until the disciple was in the snare before He sought help for him.
3. The petition itself. What did Jesus ask for His imperilled disciple? Not that he might escape the trial, for he needed just this experience, not even that he might not fail; but that his faith might not fail, might not suffer an utter and endless eclipse as had that of Judas.
III. THE RESULT OF PETER'S SIFTING. Chaff sifted out, pure wheat left.
IV. THROUGH HIS PAINFUL EXPERIENCE, SIMON WAS PREPARED TO BE A MORE HELPFUL MAN. "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." He was to use his new knowledge, gained by his sad and painful experiences, in blessing others. Whatever God does for us, He wants us to do in turn for others. All the lessons He teaches us, He wants us to teach again.
(J. R. Miller, D. D.)
(J. R. Miller, D. D.)1. The secret may be told in a few words. The cause and spring of the most obvious defects in the apostle's character was that large and assured confidence in himself which made him so quick to speak, so prompt to act. But, throughout Scripture, as in human nature, self-confidence is opposed to faith or confidence in God. Everywhere, too, we are told that God dwells only in the humble, lowly, contrite heart. So that if God was to take up His abode with Peter, if the impulsive and vehement strength of the man was to be schooled into stedfastness and hallowed by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, in order that, being himself divinely moved and led, he might rightly lead the Apostolic Company during those first critical months in which the foundations of the Church were laid, then, obviously, his self-confidence must be purged out of him, and replaced by the humility with which God delights to dwell. On no other terms could he be fitted for the work to which he was called. And therefore it was that Satan "obtained" him — obtained, i.e., permission to sift and purge self-trust out of him. If the process was severe, the task and honour for which it prepared him were great; and greatness is not to be achieved on easy terms. It is a cruel spectacle, one of the saddest on which the stars have ever looked down — a brave man turned coward, a true man turned liar, a strong man weeping bitterly over the very sin which of all sins might well have seemed impossible to him! But would anything short of this open and shameful fall, this fracture at his strongest point, have sufficed to purge him of that self-confidence which we have seen to be so potent and so active in him up to the very instant of his fall? And if nothing else would have so suddenly and sharply sifted it out of him, and wrought into him the humility which fitted him to receive the Holy Ghost and to found the Church which Christ was about to redeem with His precious blood, shall we complain of the severity of the process by which he was purged from a dangerous self-trust and made meet for a task so honourable and blessed? Shall we not rather ask that we too may be sifted even by the most searching trials, if we too may thus be made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and be qualified for a Divine service?
2. So far, then, we have seen how Satan obtained Peter, that he might sift him. But if Satan obtained, Christ prayed for him, and even obtained him in a far higher sense; for He obtained that Peter should only be "sifted," and that the sifting should issue in his " conversion." It is to this second part of the process that we have now to turn our thoughts; for the conversion of the apostle was no less gradual, and no less complete and wonderful, than his fall. Event meets and answers event, false steps are re,rod, broken threads are taken up and worked in, triumphs of faith are set over against failures in faith, denials are retrieved by confessions; the evil in the man is sifted out of him, the good cultivated, consolidated, made permanent; and in and through all this strange and mingled discipline we see the grace of God at work to prepare him for the most honourable service and the highest blessedness. Let us be sure, then, that God has a plan for us no less than for Peter, a plan which dominates all our fugitive impulses, and changeful passions, and broken purposes, and unconnected deeds. Our lives are not the accidental and purposeless fragments they often seem to us to be. God is so disposing them as that we may be sifted from all evil, converted to all goodness, His end for us being that we may become perfect and entire, lacking nothing.
(S. Cox, D. D.)
1. For one thing, we learn somewhat of the malice of the devil. He knows nothing of love or pity.
2. But if the malice of the devil appears, so do the love and compassion of Jesus. The contrast between them is beautiful. The spectacle of Satan praying against Peter and Jesus praying for him brings out in strong relief the kindness of the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother. The sympathy of Jesus is also here exemplified.
3. Again, there is a lesson here, that ought not to be lost upon us, respecting the craft and hypocrisy of Satan. In the very presence of God we find him trying to hide his malice under cover of something like a zeal for uprightness and truth. His insinuation is that Peter's religion is but a pretence; and he would fain appear as a friend of truth, who is prepared to show this if he is allowed. His motive, forsooth, is less to do harm to Peter than simply to unmask him for the sake of truth, and to prove him to be what he really is. He does not want to corrupt Peter's mind; oh, no! He would merely show it to be corrupt already! But there is a lesson, on the other hand, to encourage and comfort us. Jesus is watchful, and Jesus is wise.
4. One lesson more. We may learn the excellence of faith. Mark the testimony of the Saviour Himself: "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." And we have not the testimony of Jesus alone. We have Satan's involuntary tribute to this capital grace. It was the faith of the apostle that he was about to assail, and, if possible, to extinguish. Peter had signalized himself by his faith. It was his faith that produced his renowned confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." The confession was gall and wormwood to Satan; he could not forget or forgive it; and he denounced, in his rage, and determined to strike at, the faith from which it sprang. He dislikes, and he fears, the faith of God's people. And not without reason. It is faith that unites us to Christ, and keeps up the communication with His fulness. If the foe can but break that blessed bond of connection, he will have us for his own.
(A. Gray.)1. The Bible doctrine of Satan's existence is strikingly corroborated by the devilish in society.
2. His existence has been revealed in mercy to us.
3. He has the will to destroy us, but not the power.
4. He is ever active.
5. We are saved from his cruel and hellish hate by the intercession of Christ.
I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail notI. The ESSENTIAL FACTS involved in the occurrence.
1. It was an hour full of trial and danger for all the disciples.
2. Peter especially was in danger.
3. Christ prayed, not simply for them all, but for Peter particularly and personally.
4. The specific point in his spiritual condition to which the prayer was directed, was the preservation of his "faith."
5. Christ also advised him of all the facts in the case — of the greatness of the peril, the source of it, and the duty of the hour.
II. The PRACTICAL TRUTHS it teaches for all time.
1. Christ really interposes to save His people when in peril.
2. He intercedes for particular persons.
3. Christ's intercessions go into effect only through the moral or spiritual state of the disciple.
4. Faith is the special element of the Christian's security.
5. Christ's prayers, as well as His design and desire, as to each one, look beyond the individual to others. "Strengthen thy brethren."
6. Christ's intercessions are not in vain, but take effect even when they seem to fail.
(M. Valentine, D. D.)
(R. Macdonald, D. D.)
1. The nature of grace itself which is an abiding principle. Faith is not a thing taken up, as a man would take up some new fashion or custom, but it is a thing rooted and incorporated in us, and goes through the substance of us, it spreads itself through the whole man, and is, as it were, a new creature in us.
2. The covenant of grace, which is an everlasting covenant. "I will make an everlasting covenant with them" (Jeremiah 32:40).
3. The spirit of grace, which is not only a worker but an establisher and a sealer of this faith in us, and to us (2 Corinthians 1:20). That the servants of God they shall have their faith much upheld in such conditions. We have this implied, that a steadfast faith is a singular help in temptation. Now, the efficacy of faith in temptation is discern-able in these particulars —(1) As it pitches us upon the strength and power of God. That which keeps up a soul in temptation, it is an almighty power, it is a power which is above all the powers of darkness itself.(2) Faith helps in temptation as it lays hold upon the promises of God.(3) As it lays hold upon Christ, and pitches us, and fastens us upon Him, we are so far safe and sure in temptation, as Christ has any hold of us and we of Him. When the stability of a Christian is said to depend upon the prayers of Christ, this is exclusive of any virtue or merit of their own. The consideration of this doctrine is very much still for the comfort of believers, as to this particular. They may from hence, in the use of good means, be very confident, and persuaded of their perseverance, because they have Christ praying for them. And there arc two things in this that make for them. The one is, as I said, first, the acceptance which Christ is sure to have with His Father. Secondly, As there is Christ's acceptance, so the constancy of His interceding for us. If Christ should only pray for us sometimes we might seem to be no longer upon sure terms, than such times as He prayed for us; "but now He ever liveth to make intercession for us."
(J. Horton, D. D.)
When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.I. On the first view of such a crime as Peter's, WE SHOULD SUPPOSE THAT ALL HIS INFLUENCE OVER HIS BRETHREN, ALL HIS ABILITY TO DO GOOD, HIS CAPACITY TO IMPART STRENGTH TO OTHERS, WERE LOST, AND THAT FOR EVER. At the most, he could only hope to be forgiven, and to live as an unnoticed believer, brooding in the shade over his ingratitude and content to take an obscure place during the remainder of his life. For consider in what position he would now be placed.
1. First his own shame would naturally bring with it a sense of weakness, and would furnish a good reason for concentrating his efforts upon himself.
2. His brethren in such a case would naturally lower their opinion of him.
3. His brethren would naturally feel that a man of such glaring sins was not the man to be put foremost in their efforts to do good outside of the Church.
II. But, notwithstanding all this, it may be true, under a system of grace, that THE MANIFESTATION OF CHARACTER WHICH IS MADE BY A PARTICULAR SIN MAY TURN INTO A BLESSING TO HIM WHO IS ALLOWED TO FALL INTO IT. In this case it is not sin, but an outward sin that is the source of good, and this is accomplished, not in the ordinary course of things, but through the grace of the gospel. Of two persons in the same moral condition before the eye of God one may be untempted and so far forth innocent, while the other yields to a temptation, before which the first also would have fallen, had it been allowed to assail him. Now I say in such a case as this the outward sin may under the gospel be made a blessing to him who commits it; nay, more, the blessing may extend beyond himself to all around him. He may become a wiser, better, stronger Christian than he was before.
1. And this will be made apparent, if we consider that in this way he arrives at a better knowledge of his own character and is impressively warned against his own faults.
2. But secondly, a person who is thus recovered from his sins has the practical power derived from a renewed hope of forgiveness.
3. A person in Peter's condition appeals to the affections of the Church, and he has a closer hold upon them than if he had never become a kind of representative of Divine grace.
(T. D. Woolsey.)I. JESUS EMPLOYS CONVERTED SOULS TO DO HIS WORK. The testimony of living men glorifies Christ.
II. A CONVERTED MAN CAN GIVE A REASON FOR HIS FAITH. II workman who has been employed in the manufacture of machinery is best able to explain the principles and manner of its work.
III. A CONVERTED MAN CAN SPEAK CONFIDENTLY.
IV. A CONVERTED MAN SPEAKS WITH SYMPATHY, AS NO ONE ELSE CAN. Learn —
1. The strength of the ministry.
2. Grace is given to be employed for others.
3. We must use means, and be very diligent in the use of them, if we would strengthen our brethren.
(Canon Fremantle.)I. WHAT IS MEANT BY SECOND CONVERSION. It implies that there has been a first conversion; that is, a principle of true piety has been implanted in the bosom, but it has hitherto been there in a weak, imperfect form. The heart has been changed, but the change is superficial and defective. The repentance is sincere, but not deep and thorough. The faith is real, but not strong and controlling. The love is genuine, but inconstant and feeble. And so of all the Christian graces; they exist in him who has had a first conversion, but in an imperfect, partially developed state, weak, unstable, unsymmetrical, and bearing but little fruit in the life. Now the effect of a second conversion is to take the subject out of this low, inadequate, and ineffective state of piety, and raise him higher, and make him more faithful in the Divine life. The antecedents of this change are often very similar to those that precede first conversion. It commences in a serious, scrutinizing view of one's spiritual state and prospects. The subject of this change becomes dissatisfied with his present type of religion. As he passes through this second conversion as I call it, he seems to himself to enter into a new spiritual region. He sees Divine things in a clearer and more affecting light than he ever did before.
II. ITS REALITY AS A MATTER OF EXPERIENCE. The apostles before and after Pentecost. Through the gift of the Spirit they rose to holier love, to a more spiritual faith and hope in Christ, and to a greater consecration to His service. The late Dr. Judson, of the Burmah Baptist Mission, after he had been years in his field of labour, earnestly engaged in his work, and no doubt as a true Christian man, experienced a change in his religious feelings and views which, in all its essential elements, may properly be regarded as a second conversion, and which gave a new impulse and a new power, as well as a greatly increased spirituality, and joy, and hope, to the whole of his subsequent life. The late Judge Reeve, of Litchfield, furnishes another remarkable example illustrating the point now under consideration. For many years after he professed religion he was saris. fled to keep up the usual routine of religious observances, but with little of the life and enjoyment of a clear, indwelling spirit of piety. Then he passed through a great and most decided change in his Christian experience and character, in which he felt as if old things had indeed passed away, and all things had become new to him. From that time till the close of his life he enjoyed great nearness to God and peace of mind, and his path became like that of the sun, shining more and more unto the perfect day.
III. WHY A SECOND CONVERSION IS NECESSARY TO PREPARE ONE TO BE TRULY AND EMINENTLY USEFUL IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE, or in promoting the spiritual good of others.
1. It is necessary because first conversion is often very superficial. It does indeed change the heart and turn the affections towards God and Divine things; but the whole inner man is far from being subdued to the obedience of Christ. Much land remains yet to be possessed.
2. A second conversion is often necessary to bring the soul into a nearer union and a deeper sympathy with Christ.
3. This second conversion of which I speak, brings those who are the subjects of it to see and feel the miserable condition of such as are out of Christ and perishing in sin.
4. Second conversion qualifies those who are the subjects of it, to do good in the most acceptable and successful manner. It begets a new spirit of humility, tenderness, and love in the soul; gives tone to the voice and look to the eye, imparts an aspect of benevolence and kindness to the whole manner and style of address, and makes it entirely apparent, when attempting to do good to others, to converse with them for example on the subject of personal religion, that you are moved to it by real concern for their salvation. This, beyond anything else, disarms opposition, subdues prejudice, gives access to the heart and conscience, and is well-nigh sure to render your efforts successful.
5. When the heart is deeply imbued with the feelings implied in second conversion, God's presence maybe expected to be with you, to guide and crown with success your endeavours to do good to others.
(J. Hawes, D. D.)I. CONVERSION.
1. The essential, primary idea is that of a corporeal turning round, without anything to limit it. But to this original notion, which is inseparable from the word, usage in many cases adds certain accessory notions. One of these is, the idea of turning in a definite direction; that is, towards a certain object. The difference is that between a wheel's turning on its axis and a flower turning towards the sun. But in some connections there is a still further accession to the primary idea; so that the words necessarily suggest, not the mere act of turning, nor the act of turning in a definite direction, but the act of turning from one object to another, which are then, of course, presented in direct antithesis to one another. Thus the magnetic needle, if mechanically pointed towards the south, is no sooner set at liberty than it will turn from that point to the north. In this case, however, there is still another accessory motion added to the simple one of turning, namely, that of turning back to a point from which it had be[ore been turned away. And this idea of return or retroversion may, of course, be repeated without limit, and without any further variation of the meaning of the term used, which is still the same, whether the turning back be for the first or second, tenth or hundredth time. All these distinctions or gradations may be traced also in the spiritual uses of the term. As thus applied, conversion is a change of character, that is, of principles and affections, with a corresponding change of outward life. Now, such a change may be conceived of, as a vague, unsettled, frequently repeated revolution of the views and feelings, without any determinate character or end. But the conversion spoken of in Scripture is relieved from this indefiniteness by a constant reference to one specific object to which the convert turns. It is to God that all conversion is described as taking place. But how, in what sense, does man turn to God? The least and lowest that can be supposed to enter into this conception is, a turning to God, as an object of attention or consideration — turning, as it were, for the first time to look at Him, just as we might turn towards any object of sense which had before escaped attention or been out of sight.
2. Sometimes, again, the idea is suggested that we not only turn to God, but turn back to Him. This may at first sight appear inconsistent with the fact just stated, that our first affections are invariably given to the world and to ourselves. But even those who are converted, for the first time, from a state of total alienation, may be said to turn back to God, in reference to the great original apostasy in which we are all implicated. As individuals, we never know God till we are converted. As a race, we have all departed from Him, and conversion is but turning back to Him. But this expression is still more appropriate, even in its strict sense, to the case of those who have already been converted, and are only reclaimed from a partial and temporary alienation, from relapsing into sin, or what is called, in religious phraseology, declension, and, in the Word of God itself, backsliding. That the term conversion may be properly applied to such a secondary restoration, is apparent from the language of the text, where it is used by Christ Himself, of one who is expressly said to have had faith, and faith which did not absolutely fail.
II. Conversion tends to the STRENGTHENING OF OTHERS. In answer to the question, How does conversion tend to this result? the general fact maybe thus resolved into three distinct particulars:
1. It enables men to strengthen others.
2. It obliges men to strengthen others.
3. It disposes men to strengthen others.The convert is enabled to confirm or rescue others by his knowledge of their character and state. He knows, not only what he sees in them, but what he feels or has felt in himself. He knows the difficulties of the restoration — how much harder it is now to excite hope or confirm faith, how much less effective either warning, or encouragement, or argument is now than it once was — how precarious even the most specious reformation and repentance must be after such deflections. This advantage of experimental knowledge is accompanied, moreover, by a corresponding liveliness of feeling, a more energetic impulse, such as always springs from recent restorations or escapes. Out of this increased ability arises, by a logical and moral necessity, a special obligation. This is only a specific application of a principle which all acknowledge, and which the Word of God explicitly propounds, "To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." It needs .not so much to be explained or established, as to be exemplified from real life. The recognition of the principle is there unhesitating and unanimous. He who has been recovered from the power of a desperate disease by a new or unknown remedy, is under a peculiar obligation to apply it, or at least to make it known, to all affected in like manner. Hence the unsparing, universal condemnation of the man who, from mercenary motives, holds in his possession secrets of importance to the health or happiness of others. He who is mercifully saved from shipwreck, often feels especially incumbent on himself the rescue of his fellows. He must do what he can even though he be exhausted; how much more if he is strengthened. The heart must beat in concord with the reason and the conscience. And it does so in the ease of the true convert.
(J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
1. By being always in the place, and punctually discharging the duty which the Lord requires of you, according to your covenant.
2. By the spirituality of those who are turned from any particular course of sinfulness.
3. The brethren may be strengthened by our meekness, and other mild graces.
4. Nor should this work of strengthening the brethren, be a matter of mere contingence. It must be undertaken systematically. Each Christian should adopt a system of doing good, and carry it out in all the branches of a Christian life.
5. He should strengthen them, by meeting with them in circles for prayer.
6. He will also encourage them, by praying for them.
7. He will encourage them by his conversation.
(J. Foot, D. D.)I. First, it is HIS DUTY. He has gone astray, and he has been brought back; what better can he do than to strengthen his brethren?
1. He will thus help to undo the evil which he has wrought. Peter must have staggered his brethren.
2. Besides, how can you better express your gratitude to God than by seeking to strengthen your weak brethren when you have been strengthened yourself?
3. Do you not think, too, that this becomes our duty, because, doubtless, it is a part of the Divine design? Never let us make a mistake by imagining that God's grace is given to a man simply with an eye to himself.
4. By the way, the very wording of the text seems to suggest the duty: we are to strengthen our "brethren." We must do so in order that we may manifest brotherly love, and thus prove our sonship towards God.
5. Let us see to it, dear friends, if we have been restored, that we try to look after our weak brethren, that we may show forth a zeal for the honour and glory of our Lord. When we went astray we dishonoured Christ.
II. Now secondly, HE HAS A QUALIFICATION FOR IT. This Peter is the man who, when he is brought back again, can strengthen his brethren.
1. He can strengthen them by telling them of the bitterness of denying his Master. He went out and wept bitterly.
2. Again, Peter was the man to tell another of the weakness of the flesh, for he could say to him, "Do not trust yourself."
3. But he was also qualified to bear his personal witness to the power of his Lord's prayer. He could never forget that Jesus had said to him, "I have prayed for thee."
4. And could not Peter speak about the love of Jesus to poor wanderers?
5. And could not Peter fully describe the joy of restoration?
III. And now, lastly, the restored believer should strengthen his brethren, because IT WILL BE SUCH A BENEFIT TO HIMSELF. He will derive great personal benefit from endeavouring to cherish and assist the weak ones in the family of God.
1. Brother, do this continually and heartily, for thus you will be made to see your own weakness.
2. But what a comfort it must have been to Peter to have such a charge committed to him!
3. And, brethren, whenever any of you lay yourselves out to strengthen weak Christians, as I pray you may, you will get benefit from what you do in the holy effort.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)1. Here is an enlargement of personal conversion, to fraternal or brotherly confirmation. He that is converted himself, he must strengthen his brethren. And that in divers respects —(1) In a way of faithfulness, as closing with that end for which they are converted themselves. The reason why God does bestow such a measure of grace or comfort upon this or that particular Christian, it is not for himself only, but for others, that so they may be so much the better, or comfortabler for his sake.(2) In away of thankfulness, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren"; upon this account likewise, we cannot better testify our acknowledgments of God's goodness, in the bestowing of grace or comfort upon our own souls, than by imparting and communicating it to others. True thankfulness, it hath, for the most part, joy with it.(3) Out of zeal to the glory of God. We should endeavour others' conversion, that so God may have more glory by it. The more that sinners are converted, the more is God honoured.(4) Out of love to ourselves and our own good. The more we strengthen others, the more indeed do we confirm ourselves, whether in grace or comfort. This oil, it increases in the spending; and this bread in the breaking of it. And to him that thus hath, it shall be given. This is done divers ways, as —(a) By discovering and laying open the flights of sin, and the subtilties of the spiritual enemy.(b) By quickening and exciting and stirring up one another to good, we do hereby strengthen our brethren. There is nothing does more strengthen men in goodness, than the practice of goodness.(c) By imparting and communicating of our own experiences, we do hereby likewise strengthen our brethren; when we shall show them what good we ourselves have found by such and such good courses. This is a means not only to draw on, but to confirm others with us.To help us, and enable us hereunto, we must labour especially for such graces as are conducing to the practice of it, as —(1) A spirit of discerning, whereby to judge aright of the case and condition which our brethren are in. It is a great part of skill in a physician, to be able to find out the disease, and to know the just temper and constitution of his patient's body; and so is it also for a healer of souls.(2) A spirit of love and tenderness and condescension. There is a great deal of meekness required in a spiritual strengthener and restorer (Galatians 6:2).(3) A spirit of faith, whereby we do believe ourselves those things which we commend to others.
2. The confinement of brotherly confirmation to personal conversion. He that will strengthen his brethren, he must himself be first of all converted. Peter, till himself be converted, he cannot confirm or strengthen his brethren, whether in comfort or grace. When we say, he cannot do it, this holds good according to the notion of a threefold impossibility which is in it.(1) In regard of the performance; he cannot strengthen his brethren in this respect, who is himself unconverted. The reason of it is this: because persons in such a condition, they are devoid of those graces which are requisite to such a performance.(2) Cannot do it, in regard of acceptance; God will not take it so well from him, in his making and pretending to do it; neither is it altogether so satisfactory to men.(3) Cannot, in regard of success. He that is himself unconverted and unexperienced in his own heart, he cannot speak so profitable to others, and to the good of their souls. Nothing goes to the heart so much as that which comes from it.
(J. Horton, D. D.)
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