Call to Worship February 10 2019

Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke

J.C. Ryle Luke 22:54-62

“The story of Peter’s fall teaches us, firstly — how small and gradual are the steps by which men may go down into great sins. The various steps in Peter’s fall, are clearly marked out by the Gospel-writers. They ought always to be observed in reading this part of the apostle’s history.

The first step was proud self-confidence. Though all denied Christ — yet he never would! He was ready to go with Him both to prison and to death!

The second step was indolent neglect of prayer. When his Master told him to pray, lest he should enter into temptation — he gave way to drowsiness, and was found asleep.

The third step was vacillating indecision. When the enemies of Christ came upon Him, Peter first fought, then ran away, then turned again, and finally ‘followed afar off.’

The fourth step was mingling with bad company. He went into the high priest’s house and sat among the servants by the fire, trying to conceal his religion, and hearing and seeing all kinds of evil.

The fifth and last step was the natural consequence of the preceding four. He was overwhelmed with fear when suddenly charged with being a disciple. The snare was round his neck. He could not escape. He plunged deeper into error than ever. He denied his blessed Master three times. The mischief, be it remembered, had been done before — the denial was only the disease coming to a head.

Let us beware of the beginnings of backsliding, however small. We never know what we may come to — if we once leave the king’s high-way. The professing Christian who begins to say of any sin or evil habit, ‘it is but a little one’ — is in imminent danger. He is sowing seeds in his heart, which will one day spring up and bear bitter fruit. It is a homely saying, that ‘if men take care of the pence — then the pounds will take care of themselves.’ We may borrow a good spiritual lesson from the saying. The Christian who keeps his heart diligently in little things — shall be kept from great falls!

The story of Peter’s fall teaches us, secondly — how very far a true believer may backslide.

In order to see this lesson clearly, the whole circumstances of Peter’s case ought to be fully weighed. He was a chosen apostle of Christ. He had enjoyed many and great spiritual privileges. He had just received the Lord’s supper. He had just heard that wonderful discourse recorded in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters of John. He had been most plainly warned of his own danger. He had boasted most loudly, that he was ready for anything that might come upon him. And yet this very man denies his gracious Master, and that repeatedly — and after intervals giving him space for reflection. He denies Him once, twice, and three times!

The best and highest believer, is a poor weak creature — even at his best times. Whether he knows it or not, he carries within him an almost boundless capacity of wickedness — however fair and decent his outward conduct may seem. There is no enormity of sin into which he may not run — if he does not watch and pray, and if the grace of God does not hold him up.

When we read the falls of Noah, Lot, and Peter — we only read what might possibly befall any of ourselves. Let us never presume. Let us never indulge in high thoughts about our own strength, or look down upon others. Whatever else we pray for, let us daily pray that we may ‘Walk humbly with God.’ (Micah 6:8.)

The story of Peter’s fall teaches us, thirdly — the infinite mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a lesson which is brought out most forcibly by a fact which is only recorded in Luke’s Gospel. We are told that when Peter denied Christ the third time, and the rooster crowed, ‘the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.’

Those words are deeply touching! Surrounded by blood-thirsty and insulting enemies, in the full anticipation of horrible outrages, an unjust trial, and a agonizing sin-atoning death — the Lord Jesus yet found time to think kindly of His poor erring disciple. Even then He would have Peter know, that He did not forget him. Sorrowfully no doubt, but not angrily, He ‘turned and looked straight at Peter.’ There was a deep meaning in that look. It was a sermon which Peter never forgot.

The love of Christ toward His people, is a deep well which has no bottom. Let us never measure it by comparison with any kind of human love. It exceeds all other love — as far as the sunlight exceeds the candle-light. There is about it, a mine of compassion, and patience, and readiness to forgive sin — of whose riches we have but a faint conception.

Let us not be afraid to trust that love, when we first feel our sins. Let us never be afraid to go on trusting it after we have once believed. No man need despair, however far he may have fallen — if he will only repent and turn to Christ. If the heart of Jesus was so gracious when He was a prisoner in the judgment hall — then we surely need not think that He is less gracious, when He sits in glory at the right hand of God.

The story of Peter’s fall teaches us, lastly — how bitter sin is to believers, when they have fallen into it and discovered their fall.

This is a lesson which stands out plainly on the face of the verses before us. We are told that when Peter remembered the warning he had received, and saw how far he had fallen, ‘he went out and wept bitterly.’ He found out by experience, the truth of Jeremiah’s words, ‘It is an evil and a bitter thing to have forsaken the Lord.’ (Jeremiah 2:19.) He felt keenly the truth of Solomon’s saying, ‘The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.’ (Proverbs 14:14.) No doubt he could have said with Job, ‘I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes!’ (Job 42:6.)

Sorrow like this, let us always remember, is an inseparable companion of true repentance. Here lies the grand distinction between ‘repentance unto salvation’ — and unavailing remorse.

Remorse can make a man miserable, like Judas Iscariot — but it can do no more. It does not lead him to God.

Repentance makes a man’s heart soft and his conscience tender — and manifests itself in sincerely turning back to his heavenly Father.

The falls of a graceless professor are falls from which there is no rising again. But the fall of a true saint always ends in deep contrition, self-abasement, and amendment of life.

Let us take heed, before we leave this passage, that we always make a right use of Peter’s fall. Let us never make it an excuse for sin. Let us learn from his sad experience, to watch and pray — lest we fall into temptation. If we do fall, let us believe that there is hope for us — just as there was for him. But above all, let us remember, that if we fall as Peter fell — then we must repent as Peter repented, or else we shall never be saved.”