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THE THIRD APPEARANCE.—THE PENITENT
The gradation-Why appear first to Peter ? I. The successive steps
of the backslider. (1) An unsubdued will. (2) Undue self-confi. dence. (3) Neglect of prayer. (4) Neglect of warnings. (5) Following Christ afar off. (6) Tampering with temptation—The Avalanche. II. The sorrows of the backslider. The look in the palace, and the bitter weeping—The backslider's musings—The starless crown. III. The restoration of the backslider. The three steps-Penitence-Hope-Assurance-The two kinds of ropentanco.
“ What precious hours I once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still!
The world can never fill.
Sweet messenger of rest,
" He was seen of Cephas." 1 Cor. xv. 5. “ The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon.” Luke xxiv. 34.
HAVING reached the third appearance of our Lord, we are able to note a certain gradation in the appearances, which shows that they were not accidental, but pre-arranged on a definite plan, and designed to convey definite lessons. The first
appearance was to a loving disciple, the second to obedient disciples, the third, to a penitent backslider. Thus we have three of the great graces of the Christian life, in their natural order. First is love, the coronal of the whole, the grace that is greater than faith and hope; then obedience, that is better than sacrifices; then repentance, that grace of tears and trust, where love weeps at the cross, and looks back on the sins of the past with a sorrow all the deeper because those sins are forgiven. Hence we have in these appearances a striking testimony of the order assigned to these graces by our Lord, in the Christian economy.
We learn this appearance incidentally, and not by any direct record, But it is easy to determine its order. It must have been after the appearance to the women, and before that on the way to Emmaus, and probably during the forenoon of the day.
The striking fact is, that he appeared first to Peter, and not to John or James. Why was this? Not to confer authority or primacy among the apostles, for this is not once hinted any where, as to Peter, any more than as to the women. The reason is obvious. Peter was a penitent backslider, with a heart all broken and bleeding in remorseful anguish, and he who signalized his death on the cross by forgiving a penitent thief, would signalize his resurrection by forgiving a penitent
disciple. He thus most touchingly taught us, that the great object of his life, death, and life again, was to purchase pardon for the penitent, whether he was a returning prodigal, or a repenting backslider. Here then we reach the great lesson of this appearance, encouragement and warning to every penitent, but especially to every penitent backslider. This is Peter's restoration as a man, not as an apostle, that being reserved for a future occasion. In this aspect then we will consider it, and trace, in the example of Peter, the steps, the sorrows, and the restoration of the backslider.
I. The successive steps of the backslider.
It is impossible to trace the first step in the departure of Peter. It was probably far back in his history, and perceptible only to the omniscient eye. The angle of departure from the path of duty is so minute, that it cannot be traced until many steps are taken. Like the motion of the hands of a watch, each movement is so small as to be imperceptible, but in the end it is found to have traversed the entire circle. Thus is it usually in every case of backsliding, and thus was it probably in the case of Peter.
But there are successive steps that we can trace, by looking closely into his history.
1. An unsubdued will. The essence of all true piety is the absolute submission and unison of the
THE PENITENT BACKSLIDER.
67 human will with the divine. It is the perfection of this that constitutes heaven, and it is for the attainment of this we are to pray in that comprehensive petition, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven." The want of this submission is proof of an imperfectly sanctified heart, and this we can trace in Peter. He was not as reverently submissive to the simple word of Christ as he should have been. This was shown in two instances. The first was, when Christ announced his coming death and was rebuked by Peter, so that he was forced to say to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." The second was, when he refused at first to allow Christ to wash his feet, and afterwards, when compelled to yield, wanted to go beyond the wish of Christ, and have his hands and his head also washed. These instances evince a want of that absolute submission of his will to Christ's word, that is requisite to constitute true religion.
2. Undue self-confidence.—The same primal law of all piety, the submission of our will to God's will, generates a relinquishment of our strength for God's strength, and thus becomes humility and self-distrust. Hence, Paul declares, "when I am weak, then am I strong," thus announcing the great law of the Christian life, that confidence in
of God there's and henen making
our own strength is weakness, whilst such a sense of our own feebleness as leads us to cling to God, is strength. This vaunting confidence characterized Peter. “Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I," was his rash boast. He was perfectly honest in this declaration, but was resting on his own strength too much, in making it, was sinfully self-confident, and hence bereft of that protection of God that is given only to the lowly, trusting, and supplicating spirit.
3. Neglect of prayer.-Although the common remark, that backsliding begins in the closet, is not strictly true, it is true that it always reaches the closet. It begins in the heart, but soon appears in the closet. Hence it reaches the prayermeeting, producing first a disrelish of its services, and then a neglect of them. Thus it was with Peter. Our Lord requested him, in connection with James or John, to hold a prayer-meeting in Gethsemane, whilst he passed through his agony there, but instead of watching and praying, Peter was asleep. So will it be found with the backslider. When the disciples come together to pray, the least guilty reason of his absence will probably be that he is asleep in Gethsemane, that he has lost his relish for prayer, and forgets or neglects the appointment for its performance.
4. Neglect of warnings, and a thoughtless rushing into temptation.-Impatience under rebuke, is a