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sure mark of backsliding, and neglect of warning is the sure precursor of a fall. Our Lord warned Peter repeatedly of his danger, assuring him that Satan had desired to sift him as wheat, and even telling him that before the cock would crow twice he should deny him thrice. Yet in spite of these warnings, he rushed into temptation, and therefore fell into sin. Thus is it ever with the backslider.
5.—Following Christ afar off. Peter did not wholly separate himself from Christ, nor did he wholly join himself to him. He was too much of a believer to forsake him entirely, and too much of a backslider to follow him entirely; and hence he followed him “afar off,” nearer to the world than to the Lord. Thus is it also with the backslider. He cannot openly renounce Christ, nor can he openly renounce the world, but timidly follows Christ so far off, that he cannot be distinguished from the world.
6.—Tampering with temptation. Conscious as Peter must have been of his weakness, he ought to have avoided temptation. But instead of this he deliberately dallied with danger, and first mingling with the enemies of Christ, he stood at the gate, then entered the palace, and then sat down with the servants by the fire, listening to the revilings and mockeries that were heaped on his Master, and not uttering a word in his defence. He thought that he could escape in silence. But he was recognized and challenged. He affected ignorance in reply to the maid. He was again challenged, and denied his discipleship. He was again charged with more confidence, and then, as if to sink to the lowest deep, replied in the long unused language of the fisherman, in oaths and curses, and thus reached the lowest deep of the abyss.
Such are the successive steps of the backslider. In the graphic climax of the first Psalm, he first walks in the counsel of the ungodly, then stands in the way of sinners, and at last, sits in the seat of the scorper, and contentedly and boastingly takes his place with the blaspheming and the vile. The beginnings of backsliding are like the first movings of an avalanche. There is the silent dripping and wearing of long weeks, then, when the last point of resistance gives way, there is the loosing of a few stones, the rolling of a little earth, then a quivering of the whole mass, which trembles for a moment, then moves, then rushes and thunders in wild and desolating ruin into the abyss below. Thus is it with the successive stages of backsliding, as we see mournfully exemplified in the case of Peter.
II. We see also the sorrows of the backslider in the case of Peter.
These sorrows began with the shame that must have suffused his face, when he stooped to decep
tion and cowardice, after boasting so confidently, that though all men should forsake Christ, yet would not be. But they reached their depth of poignancy, when Christ looked at him, in the palace, and he went out and wept bitterly. There was in that look an impressive tenderness and power, that all the fury of the Jews, and the terror of that midnight scene of horror, could not exert on the mind of the apostle. It was as if the last drop of bitterness had been put into the cup of the suffering Saviour. He might have smitten the unhappy recreant to the earth, or uttered some reproof of stern severity, but he does neither of these. When the last vehement denial was wrung from his quivering and ashy lips, it was as if a stab had reached the heart of Jesus, and he simply turned and looked at the unhappy man; and there was in that sad and tearful look, so much of gentle pity, and yet so much of touching reproof, that it sank into the heart of the bewildered apostle, awaked him from his cowardly delusion, and caused him so to feel his base conduct that he rushed out to find some lonely spot where he might weep bitterly over his wrong. We know not what thoughts then thronged his mind; but doubtless the past came up in his memory, with all its sweet communings, its words of kindness, its deeds of love; Gennesaret, Tabor, Jerusalem, Bethany, Capernaum, Gethsemane. —all the love that clustered around these scenes, came up with the anguished thought that it was this loving and faithful Saviour whom he deserted, denied, and insulted in the presence of his enemies. The future, also, with its dark uncertainties, its possible horrors, and its certain sorrows, must have also arisen to mind, mingling fear with shame, and a dreading of judgment with the gnawing of remorse. Whatever may have been his thoughts, we know that they were thoughts of unutterable sadness. .
Thus is it ever with the backslider. He may be insensible for a time, whilst the delusion is upon him, but there will always come a waking. Conscience will arise, like an angry prophet, and point to both past and future; drawing from each, visions of gloom and terror. The past, with its sweet memories of holy communings, of Sabbath joys, of sacramental gladness, of closet approachings to God, of social prayer, of the great congregation, and of all the “precious hours” he once enjoyed, will come up in mournful contrast with the dark present; and from out of the midst of this picture, there will look upon him that sad, still face, that looked on Peter in the hall, uttering in its silent sorrow, a reproach more cutting than words can embody. Then rises up the future, so dark, so joyless, so threatening, a life of weariness, a death of gloom, an eternity of uncertainty so
dread and terrible. And even if there be a hope of salvation, still it is a dim one, and almost joyless. “Oh! I fear," said a dying Christian, “that my crown will be a starless one!" And in spite of all efforts to comfort her, she would still mourn. fully murmur, “A starless crown! a starless crown!" Such were some of the sorrows that Peter probably felt, that will come at last on the backslider.
III. The restoration of the backsliding Peter. This restoration had at least three successive steps. The first was the look of Christ, which produced genuine penitence. The second was the message from the angels, (Mark xvi. 7,) sent through the women to him by name, which excited hope. The third was the actual appearance of our Lord to the penitent backslider, which raised him to the joy of an assured pardon and restored acceptance. The first and second were necessary to the third, and had they been bootless, it had doubtless been withheld.
Such is also the course of restoration in every case of backsliding. The first step is genuine penitence, a sense of the sin of wandering from God, and such a mourning over these desertions and denials, as David has expressed in that consecrated song of contrition, the 51st Psalm. We must feel how bitter a thing it is to thus wander, how base a thing it is to thus desert one so true