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did not even notice the poor empty trifler at all: he said unto them, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able." When he had told Peter his duty and destiny, Peter saw John approaching; and asked, "Lord, and what shall this man do?" But our Saviour said, "What if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me." So here, he shows his judgment of the inquiry by eluding it. But though he does not gratify him, he instructs him. "Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards." In two senses, Peter was to follow him, in due time—to the throne, and to the cross: but at present he could follow him as to neither.
are some detained in life after their connexions have fallen off; after disease and infirmity have rendered them unfit for active employment: and they seem to themselves as incumbrances, instead of helps. But there are some reasons for their detention, connected with the glory of God, and their own welfare; though, as to the knowledge of them, we must walk by faith and not by sight.
Secondly. Peter was to follow him to the cross. He was to suffer for him, and like him-he was to die the same kind of death"When thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God." But he could not follow him now, because he had not sufficient faith and resolution to suffer. The Saviour, therefore, forbears to call him to a task for which he was inadequate. This is very instructive. It shows us that our Lord's dealings with his people are founded not only in kindness, but in wisdom and prudence. He adapts the burden to the shoulder, or fits the shoulder to the burden; he smooths the road, or prepares the foot-so is the promise; "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy day, so shall thy strength be." Some of you can look back and remember how you dreaded
First. Peter was to follow him to glory. It was what our Lord prayed for, and what he promised. Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory. Where I am, there shall also my servant be." This is true of all Christians. They are to be for ever with the Lord. He is gone to prepare a place for them. He is their forerunner; their trustee; and has taken possession of heaven in their name. Already he has drawn their hearts after him; and he will by-and-by draw their persons. But for every thing there is a season. He could not follow him now-such and such trials. You thought, that if because, though our Saviour's hour was they should befall you then, you must sink come, Peter's was not; though the Master under them-and so you would. But he had finished the work given him to do, the gradually prepared you for them; and when servant had scarcely begun his-and "we they actually came, your mind was in a difare all immortal till our work is done." Ene- ferent state-you had other views and feelmies cannot hasten, nor friends retard, our ings-your faith was more strong, and your departure, before the time appointed of our hope more lively. Gideon, while threshing heavenly Father. Christians are sometimes in the barn, had not, and did not want, the impatient, and long to be gone; but this is degree of prowess which was necessary when wrong. The best frame we can be in," he took the sword, and placed himself at the says Henry, "is to be ready to go, and wil-head of the army; but when, in obedience to ling to stay:" if God has any thing for us to do, or to suffer, for his sake. We have three good men in the Scripture who wished for death: but they knew not what they said; and are all blamed for it. The eagerness is not only wrong, but useless. What would it avail the husbandman to fret and rave? Would this bring harvest the sooner? There must be months of winter, and weeks of cold; and nights of frost, and days of rain and sunshine. He cannot reap in May, or June: the order of nature forbids it. There is also an order in grace. Why cannot you follow him now? Perhaps you have an aged mother to support. Perhaps you have an infant charge to rear. Perhaps you are destined to give birth to an institution of charity. Perhaps you are to exemplify religion in your temper and practice. Perhaps to recommend the Gospel by your sufferings.-We must run, before we can conquer. We must fight, before we can triumph. What a length of time
the Divine will, he entered the field, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. It does not become you to cast down your souls by imagining future difficulties, and comparing them with your present strength. You should not say, "O, if I was called to prison, or a fiery stake, how could I endure!" See that you are the Lord's servant: endeavour to hold yourself at his disposal; attend willingly to the duty of the day; and leave the morrow with him. Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee; he will never suffer the righteous to be moved. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof and what is better, sufficient for it too will be the grace. This was our Saviour's meaning; and Peter understood by his following him-his following him to suffer. He, therefore, said unto him, "Lord, why cannot I follow thee now?' I do not want courage or zeal: Lord, 'I will lay down my life for thy sake'-and what can I do more?"
II. "Jesus answered him," with a countenance and voice more expressive of pity than severity-"Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Ah, Peter, this is sooner said than done. Life is not so easily parted with. You trembled upon the water, and beginning to sink, you cried out, Lord, save, I perish.-Be not so confident now-Verily, verily, I say unto you, the cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice."" Let us remark the sin; and derive some reflections from the melancholy statement.
First. The crime was heinous. To deny his Master was unfaithfulness: to deny his Friend was perfidy: to deny his Benefactor was ingratitude to deny his Redeemer was impiety. It was, for the time, to break off all connexion with him; it was saying, I neither wish to serve him, nor to be saved by him. I know him not, nor wish to know him -"Away with him-Crucify him."
This, too, was the conduct of one who had been called from a low condition in life to the high honour of apostleship of one who had seen his miracles-of one who was with him in the Transfiguration, and in Jairus's chamber, when he raised the dead-of one who had confessed him, and said, "To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life: and we believe and are sure that thou art Christ the Son of the living God." Three aggravations are here mentioned. First, he was warned and admonished-he could not plead ignorance. Secondly, the sin was immediately committed. Things soon wear off from the mind; but here was no time for forgetfulness-the voice of the Saviour had hardly left his ear-his own resolution had scarcely dropped from his lips-he had said, "I will never be offended," and was offended that very night: "The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice"-which is the last aggravation-here is repetition. A man may be surprised and overtaken in a fault; but the moment after, reflection may return; and he may wonder, and shudder, and flee. But Peter, after his first offence, feels nothing-he renews it again—and even again-yea, and each time he waxes worse and worse, till a lie ends in an oath--and an oath in a cursing!
From this affecting statement let us, Secondly, derive some profitable remarks.
And, first: behold the foreknowledge of our Saviour. Whoever attentively reads the four Gospels must perceive that there was always something to relieve his humiliation, and to convince us that his abasement was not original, and constrained; but assumed and voluntary: that "he made himself of no reputation; and for our sakes became poor." The soldiers in the garden apprehended him, and led him away; but not till they went backward and fell to the ground, in consequence of his presenting himself, and saying,
"I am He!" He was now to be disowned and forsaken; but he proves that he was able to read the heart, and to foresee certainly and minutely what would happen, contrary to every degree of probability. For what appearance was there that Peter would deny him-deny him just three times-and three times that very night-and that very night before the cock crew-and with the most profane language? Of all the apostles, he seemed the most determined-the least likely to yield to fear-and had at this very time engaged to die with him, rather than disown him-when, lo! at the very moment of giving this assurance of his attachment and fidelity, Jesus declares, that in two or three hours, he would falsify every thing he had said and thought! This was a proof that he "needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man."
This foreknowledge, however, does not justify or extenuate Peter's sin. Peter was perfectly free and voluntary in what he did. Foreknowledge supposes, not renders things certain: it does not compel men to sin: their sins are committed not because they are foreknown, or foretold; but they are foreknown and foretold because they will be committed.
Secondly. What reason have we to exclaim, with David, "Lord, what is man!" Survey him under the greatest advantages and obligations. Look-not at heathens, but at Jews-a people distinguished and indulged above all the families of the earth. Looknot at Jews, but at Christians, with all the privileges of the Jews increased and perfected. Look-not at those who are only Christians in name, and live under the dispensations of the Gospel; but at those who are “partakers of the grace of God in truth.” Look at these-not only as chargeable with infirmities; with drowsiness of attention, or wandering thoughts in divine things; but overcome with temptation, and betrayed into the grossest guilt-and no longer wonder that a man after God's own heart should pray, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins: let them not have dominion over me." No longer wonder that our Saviour should say, even to his disciples, "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares." There is nothing too vile for us to fall into, if we are left of Him who alone can keep us from falling.
Thirdly. We see how little we are acquainted with ourselves. When Peter said, "I will lay down my life for thy sake," he spoke according to his feelings. But sincerity is not constancy. There is a goodness, compared to the morning cloud and early dew, that soon passeth away. Peter did not consider the difference between an impulse and a principle; between an hour of ease and a
moment of trial. We are now in health; but we know not how it would be with us if we were removed to a climate much warmer, or colder, than our own: and we know less of ourselves morally than physically. There
are excellences which we may presume upon our possessing, only because we have never been called to display them. There are provocations with which we have never been tried, the effect of which would render us a wonder to ourselves. Events increase our self-acquaintance, by showing us what there is in the heart: as the waves cast up mire. and dirt in the pool that was clear, because calm, before. Hazael's case is a strong one; but it will apply, in various degrees, to ourselves. He was shocked at the prophet's representation of himself when he should become a king-and exclaimed, "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?" And yet, as an old writer says, the dog did it. God only knows how much of our innocency has been owing to principle, or the absence of temptation; or what we should have been in conditions the reverse of those which have sheltered our weakness.
But, Fourthly. Here is the grand lesson you and I have to learn-That the most confident are the most exposed; and the most humble the most safe. "When I am weak, then am I strong." Why? Because the deep consciousness of my weakness will induce me to shun scenes of temptation; keep me from aspiring after high and responsible stations; and to pray, without ceasing, "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe."
No: we do not wonder at this strange and sad revolution in Peter. He is proud and self-sufficient. He places himself above his brethren, and considers himself as much less likely to fall than they-" Though all should be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended." He talks away about sacrificing his life-without one word like this: " By thy grace helping me for without thee I can do nothing." A Pharisee could hardly have held more vainglorious language.-Is it any marvel, then, that he should be permitted to learn, by bitter experience, that he was nothing, and could do nothing, without that Holy Spirit whose influences he had forgotten to acknowledge? "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." I never saw a professor of religion full of confidence in himself, and speaking censoriously of others, but who fell into some gross crime, or into some great calamity. "Be not highminded, but fear. Blessed is the man that feareth always." Let us sing the words of our incomparable Cowper:
"To keep the lamp alive,
With oil we fill the bowl;
'Tis water makes the willow thrive, And grace that feeds the soul. "The Lord's unsparing hand
Supplies the living stream; It is not at our own command, But still derived from Him.
"Beware of Peter's word,
Nor confidently say,
'I never will deny thee, Lord;" But Grant I never may.'
"Man's wisdom is to seek
His strength in God alone;
"Retreat beneath his wings,
"In JESUS is our store:
Grace issues from his throne; Whoever says, I want no more,' Confesses he has none."
THE THORN IN THE FLESH.
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest 1 should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee.-2 Cor. xii.
WHERE the subject is himself, it is a delicate and a difficult thing for a man to speak properly. And, whether it be from constitutional reserve, or a fear of hypocrisy, or a sense of unworthiness and imperfections, it is certain, that those who feel most, and do most, in religion, generally talk the least about it. It is the shallow stream that cannot flow; it is the empty vessel that cannot be-touched without telling it.
Yet a reference to a person's own history and experience is sometimes not only allowable, but commendable and useful; and a man of talent and real godliness, and whose character is placed above suspicion, is often peculiarly interesting and edifying when he speaks of things concerning himself. Such a man was Paul; and the narrative he here gives us has relieved the minds, and called forth the gratitude of millions. It contains,
I. HIS DANGER. II. HIS PRESERVATION. III. HIS PRAYER. IV. HIS SUCCESS.
I. HIS DANGER. "Lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations." By "the abundance of the revelations," he refers to some extraordinary discoveries with which God had favoured him; and particularly a trance, recorded in the preceding verses: "It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to
visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth ;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in
the body or out of the body, I cannot tell: God | before them, he exclaimed, "Master, it is knoweth ;) how that he was caught up into good for us to be here; let us make three paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which tabernacles, one for thee, one for Moses, and it is not lawful for a man to utter." On the na- one for Elias."-He wished to abide there: ture and circumstances of this transaction I but, says the Holy Ghost, he "knew not am not called to enlarge. I shall only remark what he said." For, admitting his wish had what is necessary to our immediate purpose. been indulged, what would have become of It is the modesty and diffidence of the Apos- his wife and family? Peter, in his transtle, who had concealed this privilege for more port, had forgotten these. But these may be than fourteen years. How unlike him are forgotten too soon-these must not be forgotthose who sound a trumpet before them, to ten at all. As the Saviour does not pray that awaken attention to all their religious move- his followers, before the appointed hour, ments! who are forward to publish to the should be taken out of the world by death, world accounts of their conversion and de- so neither does he improperly draw them out liverances, depressions, and raptures-Not of it by religion. It is their allotted resithat it is improper to take notice of any of dence for a season; and many relative and God's dealings with us: "Whoso is wise, civil claims demand a subordinate share of and will observe these things, even they shall their attention. He could so indulge his peounderstand the lovingkindness of the Lord." ple, that their manifestations and joys would But while we remark these things for our unhinge them from earth, take all interest own profit we need not plague the public, or out of their present connexions, and render suppose that every body must feel interested them listless to all the duties of their stations in our concerns. Had many been indulged and callings. But he is a God of judgment; like Paul, they would not have contained and fits us for the way, as well as the end. themselves for a single day, but have announced in every company, and probably in print, that they had been in the third heaven, and heard unspeakable words! But, it is likely, Paul would never have divulged this distinction unless he had been compelled by his enemies, in vindication of his office; and when he does mention it he frankly acknowledges that it nearly proved too much for him -I was in danger, says he, of being "exalted above measure."
Thirdly. He was in danger of rising too high in his own estimation, as a favourite of Heaven. Christians, while here, are sanctified but in part. They are not like the Holy One of God, or whom it is said, "The prince of this world came, and found nothing in him." He met with nothing inflammable in him, and therefore he could kindle none of his unhallowed fires; there were no evil appetites and passions, for temptation to operate upon. But it is otherwise with us. Owing That is, First. He was in danger of be- to the sin that dwelleth in us, we are in daning raised too high for the usefulness as a ger from every thing around us; and thereminister. A minister is to have compassion fore must walk circumspectly, and watch and on the ignorant; to comfort the feeblemind- pray lest we enter into temptation. There ed; to sympathize with the afflicted; and are dangers in our dress; and dangers in our to speak a word in season to him that is table; and dangers in our friends; and danweary-He is to enter into all the circum-gers in our children. Things innocent in stances, and melt into all the feelings of his people. Now there are things which, instead of preparing him for this accommodation, may disqualify him. He may be raised above it. That which promises the preacher usefulness, by adapting him to the state of his hearers, is not something peculiar to himself, but that which he experiences in common with them. Paul was growing too wise; he was in danger, so to speak, of shooting over the people's heads. He had to do with poor mortals upon earth-What was the language of paradise to them; It could only make them stare, or exclaim, "How fine, how wonderful a preacher! Why, no one can understand him!" But when he spake to them of thorns, and afflictions, and prayer, and sustaining grace, he was on their level; and they could apprehend and feel him.
themselves may become injurious; things even good in themselves may become evil. Knowledge may puff up: our enlargements in duty, and even our attainments in religion, may-through our remaining corruption— gender, or at least feed, self-sufficiency and highmindedness.
Do you wonder at your danger? See Paul himself in hazard, from the influence of vanity and pride. Even he was beginning to rise and swell, from the distinguishing honours that had been shown him. "Why this is a very astonishing privilege-Who was ever caught up into heaven, while on earth? This is really placing me above the prophets; yea, above Moses himself. He spake with God, it is said, face to face; but he was never admitted into the third heaven. The glorious prerogative belongs to me only." Secondly. He was in danger of being No creature, perhaps, discovered in him such elevated too high for his present condition as a tendency towards self-exaltation; and Paul a Christian. When Peter saw Moses and himself was probably unconscious of his danElias in glory, and our Saviour transfiguredger. But it was his mercy that he had one
to watch over him who discerned his expo-able to discover any duty that I have knowsure in time; and employed means,
ingly neglected; any sin that I have indulged
II. For HIS PRESERVATION, which we proceed to consider. "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure." This thorn has exceedingly perplexed expositors; and they knew not, after all their conjectures, what to do with it. It would be a waste of your time, to attempt to determine what is among the secrets of the Almighty; and which, if discovered, would be of no importance. We even admire the wisdom that has left it in uncertainty. If He therefore determined to prevent the you knew what it exclusively was, those of evil; and it is commonly said, Prevention is you who are in affliction, but not afflicted in better than cure; and it is truly said, and the same thing, would be ready to say, "Ah! never so truly-as with regard to sin. Let Paul never knew my heart's bitterness-He us take, for instance, Joseph and David, with never had my thorn!" But now, none of you respect to adultery. Joseph was preserved, can say this; for you are ignorant of what it and David was restored. But observe the was. Let then a Baxter, who for thirty years difference. The one was useful, as an exendured the stone, imagine that it was his ample, to excite and encourage; the other torment; let a Watts, moving in weakness, hardened and justified the ungodly, turned and in fear, and in much trembling, conclude religion into a jeer, and "caused the enemies that it was a nervous malady; let a third of the Lord to blaspheme." The one retaininfer, that it was a slanderer; a fourth, a try-ed his peace of mind; the other was torn with ing companion; and so of the rest.-If such anguish, and his sin was ever before him. a supposition tends to soothe the mind under irritation, and leads the sufferer to believe that it is sent to "keep man from his purpose, and to hide pride from man;" the supposition can never be improper. Thus the Scripture teaches us, by what it conceals, as well as by what it discovers; and our ignorance, as well as our knowledge, is rendered useful.
The one was crowned with glory and honour, the other, in his reputation, suffered a dreadful eclipse. A blot and a dishonour did he get, and his reproach shall not be wiped away. Take Hezekiah and Paul, with regard to pride. Hezekiah was lifted up; and when he humbled himself he was forgiven: but this did not repair the many sad effects of his ambition-for "wrath came upon him and upon all Judah." But Paul was taken earlier; the God of his mercy prevented him— or who can imagine what consequences might have resulted from sin in such a character, both with regard to himself, the church, and the world!
All we learn is, That this thorn in the flesh was some sharp and piercing affliction; in which the enemy of souls had a peculiar influence: for it was "the messenger of Satan to buffet him." And to buffet him was all his aim. But his intention was overruled; and the curse turned into a blessing. Thus Ah! said David, when he had been hinthe leech adheres to the flesh, and fills him-dered from effecting a purpose of revenge; self with blood, and looks no further: but the "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which hand of the Faculty guides it to the place of sent thee this day to meet me: and blessed contact, and the relief of the patient is the be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast consequence. Thus we have seen men in a kept me this day from coming to shed blood, boat, looking one way, and rowing another. and from avenging myself with mine own Thus all creatures are in the Lord's hand, hand." Who is not under obligation to praise and under his control: he gave Joseph favour God for the same preventing goodness! One in the sight of the jailer; brought Elijah ought to say, "Blessed be God for that event, food by ravens; and sent Paul safety by Sa- which took me out of a situation in which 1 tan himself! now see I should have been corrupted and destroyed." Another ought to say, "Blessed be God, for that breach of friendship; it saved me from a pleasing, but irreligious companion, who would have undermined my principles." Another ought to say, "Blessed be God for such a brotherly reproof: it seems severe, and many a tear it cost me; but it checked me on the very brink of ruin." Another ought to say, "Blessed be God, I should have made flesh my arm, and gold my hope;
But you will observe, that Paul does not "There was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, because I was exalted above measure," but "lest I should be." I wish you to remark this, in order to see, that affliction is designed to prevent, as well as to recover. This is a case of great importance in the experience of Christians. You say, perhaps, "After the most faithful examination of myself, I am not