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If we stand under the shade of some majestic tree, and examine the leaves that clothe its wide-spreading branches, we soon perceive that, though certain general characteristics pervade the whole, so that we can easily distinguish the leaf of the oak from that of the beech or the elm, there are, at the same time, such endless diversities of size, and form, and colour, that no two of them can be found which are exactly alike. A similar remark may be made in regard to the members of the Church of Christ—the leaves that grow on the Spiritual Vine. In all of them we find faith in the Saviour, devotion to God, and love to man, the all-important particulars by which they are separated from the careless multitude around them, while endless diversities of temper and disposition give individuality to every believer.
These diversities generally originate in some peculiarity of mental constitution which, though modified and directed by the operation of the Holy Spirit, continues to influence the conduct of the believer even when he is farthest advanced in his Christian career ; and it is both interesting and instructive to mark the manner in which these natural dispositions lead him into error, when they are left to themselves, and the manner in which they fit him for usefulness in the service of God, when they are directed by grace.
These remarks are strikingly exemplified in the history of the Apostle Peter, whose character exhibits a strange combination of strength and of weakness, of that which we approve and of that which we must condemn. His conduct manifests a warmth of affection for his Master, and a sincerity of purpose, which command our esteem, and fit him for being an example. At the same time, we observe a readiness to speak and to act without consideration, on the mère impulse of the moment, which led him into error, so that we are often constrained to look on him as a beacon and a warning. This impulsive temperament pervaded his whole behaviour, and history emphatically teaches us the importance of our Saviour's counsel,“ Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."
In Luke v. 6, we are told that a multitude having gathered together on the shore, Jesus went into Simon's ship and taught the people out of the ship. When he had left off speaking, he said “ Launch out into the deep, and let down thy net for a draught.” Simon, before this time, had seen many proofs of his Master's miraculous power ; but he was so much impressed with the thought of the impossibility of catching fish when the snare was set before their
eyes in the brightness of noon-day, that he began to remonstrate; Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing.” Immediately, however, he seems to have felt rebuked for his presumption in so doing, for he added, “nevertheless, at thy word, I will let down the net," and no sooner No. 217. – New Series.
had he seen the miraculous draught, than, filled with a deep sense of his error and of contrition for his sin, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
We read in Matthew xiv. that when Jesus came to his disciples, walking on the sea, they thought he was a spirit, and cried out for fear. But when Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid," hope and confidence took the place of the alarm that had previously filled their bosoms; and Peter, in the exuberance of his joy and assurance, said, “Lord, bid me come to thee on the water,” and, having received his Master's command, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind was boisterous, a very different emotion was awakened, fear regained its sway, and yielding to its influence, he began to sink, and had to cry to the Lord to save him.
On another occasion, Matthew xvi., when our Saviour had asked his disciples, “ Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" and had received their account of the various opinions that had been formed of him, he ques. tioned them as to the views which they themselves entertained, and said,“But whom say you that I am ?” Peter instantly, under the influence of a lively faith, replied : “ Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." This declaration of his belief received the cordial approbation of his Master. A little after, however, when Jesus showed how that he must go into Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, Peter, led away by his desire for his Master's temporal honour, and hope of an earthly kingdom, exclaimed: "Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee;" and thus called down on himself the memorable rebuke, “Get thee behind me, Satan : thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men."
It was on the night immediately preceding our Saviour's crucifixion that the peculiarities of Peter's character were most remarkably exhibited. When our Lord said, “ All ye shall be offended because of me this night," Peter answered, “ Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” When told that in that very night he should deny his Master, he again, in yet stronger terms, affirmed his resolution, and said, “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee." When our Lord still further warned him and said, “ Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not,” his reply was still the same,“ Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison and to death."
Here we see the steps that led to his fall—the little sins, as some might think them, that prepared the way for greater. Full of confidence in the sincerity of his affection and the firmness of his purpose, he could not be persuaded that any temptation could induce him to deny his Lord. He forgot that “a high spirit goeth before a fall.” Though informed that he would be exposed to the devil's fiercest assaults, he could not be brought to fear his foe; and the enemy is never so much to be dreaded as when he is despised and forgotten. Though enjoined to watch and to pray, lest he should enter into temptation, he neglected the counsel, and even while witnessing our Saviour's prayer of agony in the garden, he fell asleep. Relying with fatal security on his own conscious integrity, he cast off fear, and restrained prayer before God, and thus laid bare his breast to the fiery darts of the Evil One.
The same disposition was shown when the messengers of the high priest came up to take Jesus. Ever rash and forward, Peter said, “ Shall I smite with the sword?” and without waiting for a reply, he smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his ear. This unwarrantable deed was the climax of his
presumption, and gave its peculiar force to the temptation before which he fell.
Mixing with the crowd, Peter and John followed afar off to see the end; and John, who was known to the servants, went into the palace of the high priest. He afterwards spoke to her that kept the door, and brought in Peter. The bystanders, seeing them together, were naturally led to remark, “ Thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth;” but Peter denied, saying, “ I know not the man." When he had gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said, “ This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again, and more vehemently, he repeated his former assertion. A little after, his Galilean accent led those around him to say, “Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.” Again he denied the charge; and when the kinsman of Malchus said, “ Did I not see thee in the garden with him?" he began “to curse and to swear,” saying, “I know not the man.”
He saw John, who was known to be a follower of Jesus, going out and in, and meeting with no molestation; why, then, did he disown his companion and deny his Master ? He had a cause for fear which John had not. He had drawn his sword against the messengers of the law, and had openly resisted official authority; and it was when one of them said, “Did I not see thee in the garden with him ?” that he began to curse and to swear, and call on the God of truth to witness his lie. The self-confident spirit that led him, in the first place, to despise the Saviour's warning, and to neglect prayer, led him, in the next place, to commit the unwarrantable deed of violence which exposed him to his peculiar danger. And thus the Saviour's prophecy was fulfilled; and the sin of which Peter thought himself incapable was repeated again and again, and with the most heinous aggravation.
We cannot extenuate Peter's sin. It was very great. He had been called to be an apostle; he had been sent out to proclaim to others the Gospel of the kingdom; and he had wrought mighty works in the name of Jesus. He had received many marks of special favour; he had seen the glory of the transfiguration; and he had witnessed the agony in the garden. He had been solemnly warned, and tenderly counselled. But it was all in vain. His self-confidence led him to neglect the Saviour's injunction. He neither watched against temptation, nor sought the grace that cometh from above. Thus he fell.
In his fall we all should learn a lesson. We may, like him, have had the great truths of the Gospel revealed to us more clearly than they have been to others; our love to the Saviour may be sincere; our resolutions may be good; and we may, like him, also have the Saviour praying for us; but, if we do not pray for ourselves, we must fall, even as he did.
In his subsequent history, when he was “converted that he might strengthen his brethren,”: we find the same natural temperament that formerly had led him into sin modified and directed by the Spirit of the Lord, and fitting him for being the zealous and efficient advocate of the truth.
After the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, when some were mocking and saying, “ These men are full of new wine," he not only showed that the gifts then given came from God in fulfilment of his prophecy, but boldly proclaimed, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God had made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” And such power accompanied his words, that his hearers were "pricked in their hearts,” and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
At an after time, when he had healed the lame man at the gate of the Temple, and had been cast into prison because he taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead, he was brought before the Jewish rulers, who vainly hoped by a display of their pomp and power to compel his silence. " Their rulers, and elders, and scribes, and Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together.” But, undismayed by this formidable array, he boldly declared his Master's message; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him, doth this man stand here before
whole.” When straitly threatened, and commanded not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus, instead of promising obedience, he, who had formerly been so weak that a handmaid's question had led him to deny his Lord, replied to the assembled council, “ Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you, more than unto God, judge ye.”
No contrast can be more striking than that which we find between the conduct of Peter when left to himself and his behaviour when guided by the Holy Spirit. A similar contrast, however, may be found in every believer. If we are left to ourselves, Satan can turn us whithersoever he will; but, when upheld by the power of God, we can wrestle with “principalities, and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places, and are made more than conquerors through Him that loved us.' Our natural temperament and talents, be they what they may, while they remain unsanctified, lead only to evil; but when renewed by the Spirit, they work the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Under the guidance of Satan, like weapons in the hand of an enemy, they wound the body of Christ; but, directed by the arm of the Lord, they are mighty in defence of the truth; and the humble endeavour of the weakest of the children of God may be made mighty to the pulling down of strong holds and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.
SCOTTISH CHURCH PARTIES.
Mixed up ainong the three larger planets whose appearance and course in the Scottish ecclesiastical firmament we had occasion some months ago to notice in these pages, there are many smaller bodies circling in orbits at a greater or less distance from the central sun. These asteroids, as we may call them, all represent Church parties or forces in Scotland, and the present series of papers would perhaps be scarcely complete if we failed altogether to make some reference to them.
There are three Churches north of the Tweed that would refuse to be spoken of as in any sense seceders or dissenters from the National Presbyterian Establishment, because the streams which they represent did not at any time flow out of that main current, but issued from independent springs of their own. One of these—the Popish Church-claims to be the legitimate successor of the Church of Scotland before the Reformation. Another, the Episcopal, holds itself to have been unrighteously dispossessed of the national support it once enjoyed, and looks forward, not now unhopefully, to the day when it shall get its own again. While the third, the Reformed Presbyterian, refused to adhere to the scheme of reconstruction proposed in the Revolution Settlement, and has maintained a separate state of existence ever since.