By J.C. Ryle
THE LAST SUPPER
The chapter which opens with these verses, begins Luke's account of our Lord's sufferings and death. No part of the Gospels is so important as this. The death of Christ was the life of the world. No part of our Lord's history is so fully given by all the gospel writers as this. Only two of them describe the circumstances of Christ's birth. All four dwell minutely on Christ's death. And of all the four, no one supplies us with such full and interesting details as Luke.
We see, firstly, in these verses, that high offices in the church do not preserve the holders of them from great blindness and sin. We read that "the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill Jesus."
The first step in putting Christ to death, was taken by the religious teachers of the Jewish nation. The very men who ought to have welcomed the Messiah, were the men who conspired to kill Him. The very pastors who ought to have rejoiced at the appearing of the Lamb of God, had the chief hand in slaying Him. They sat in Moses' seat. They claimed to be "guides of the blind," and "lights of those who were in darkness." (Rom. 2:19.) They belonged to the tribe of Levi. They were, most of them, in direct succession and descent from Aaron. Yet they were the very men who crucified the Lord of glory! With all their boasted knowledge, they were far more ignorant than the few Galilean fishermen who followed Christ.
Let us beware of attaching an excessive importance to ministers of religion because of their office. Ordination and office confer no exemption from error. The greatest heresies have been sown, and the greatest practical abuses introduced into the church by ordained men. Respect is undoubtedly due to high official position. Order and discipline ought not to be forgotten. The teaching and counsel of regularly appointed teachers ought not to be lightly refused. But there are limits beyond which we must not go. We must never allow the blind to lead us into the ditch. We must never allow modern chief priests and scribes to make us crucify Christ afresh. We must test all teachers by the unerring rule of the Word of God. It matters little who says a thing in religion--but it matters greatly what it is that is said. Is it scriptural? Is it true? This is the only question. "To the law and to the testimony--if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (Isaiah 8:20.)
We see, secondly, in these verses, how far men may fall after making a high profession. We read that the second step toward our Lord's crucifixion, was the treachery of one of the twelve apostles--"Then entered Satan into Judas Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve." These words are peculiarly dreadful. To be tempted by Satan is bad enough. To be sifted, buffeted, led captive by him is truly terrible. But when Satan "enters into a man," and dwells in him, the man becomes indeed a child of hell.
Judas Iscariot ought to be a standing beacon to the church of Christ. This man, be it remembered, was one of our Lord's chosen apostles. He followed our Lord during the whole course of His ministry. He forsook all for Christ's sake. He heard Christ preach and saw Christ's miracles. He preached himself. He spoke like the other apostles. There was nothing about him to distinguish him from Peter, James, and John. He was never suspected of being unsound at heart. And yet this man turns out at length a hypocrite, betrays his Master, helps his enemies to deliver Him up to death, and dies himself "the son of perdition." (John 17:12.) These are fearful things. But they are true.
Let the recollection of Judas Iscariot constrain every professing, Christian to pray much for humility. Let us often say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart--try me, and know my thoughts." (Psalm. 139:23.) At best we have but a faint conception of the deceitfulness of our hearts. The lengths to which men may go in religion, and yet be without grace, is far greater than we suppose.
We see, thirdly, in these verses, the enormous power of the love of money. We are told that when Judas went to the chief priests and offered to betray his Master, they "agreed to give him money." That little sentence reveals the secret of this wretched man's fall. He was fond of money, He had doubtless heard our Lord's solemn warning, "Take heed and beware of covetousness." (Luke 12:15.) But he had either forgotten it, or given it no heed. Covetousness was the rock on which he made shipwreck. Covetousness was the ruin of his soul.
We need not wonder that Paul called the love of money "the root of all evil." (1 Tim. 6:10.) The history of the church is full of mournful proofs, that it is one of the choicest weapons of Satan for corrupting and spoiling professors of religion. Gehazi, Ananias and Sapphira are names which naturally occur to our minds. But of all proofs, there is none so melancholy as the one before us. For money a chosen apostle sold the best and most loving of Masters! For money Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ!
Let us watch and pray against the love of money. It is a subtle disease, and often far nearer to us than we suppose. A poor man is just as liable to it as a rich man. It is possible to love money without having it, and it is possible to have it without loving it. Let us be "content with such things as we have." (Heb. 13:5.) We never know what we might do if we became suddenly rich. It is a striking fact, that there is only one prayer in all the Book of Proverbs, and that one of the three petitions in that prayer, is the wise request--"Give me neither poverty nor riches." (Prov. 30:8.)
We see, lastly, in these verses, the close connection between our Lord Jesus Christ's death and the Feast of the Passover. Four times we are reminded here that the evening before His crucifixion was the time of the great Jewish feast. It was "the day when the Passover lamb must be killed."
We cannot doubt that the time of our Lord's crucifixion was overruled by God. His perfect wisdom and controlling power arranged that the Lamb of God should die, at the very time when the passover-lamb was being slain. The death of Christ was the fulfillment of the passover. He was the true sacrifice to which every passover-lamb had been pointing for 1500 years. What the death of the lamb had been to Israel in Egypt, His death was to be to sinners all over the world. The safety which the blood of the passover-lamb had provided for Israel, His blood was to provide far more abundantly for all that believed in Him.
Let us never forget the sacrificial character of Christ's death. Let us reject with abhorrence the modern notion that it was nothing more than a mighty instance of self-sacrifice and self-denial. It was this no doubt--but it was something far higher, deeper, and more important than this. It was a propitiation for the sins of the world. It was an atonement for man's transgression. It was the killing of the true passover Lamb, through whose death destruction is warded off from sinners believing on Him. "Christ our passover Lamb," says Paul, "is sacrificed for us." (1 Cor. 5:7.) Let us grasp that truth firmly, and never let it go.
THE LAST SUPPER
These verses contain Luke's account of the institution of the Lord's supper. It is a passage which every true Christian will always read with deep interest. How astonishing it seems that an ordinance, so beautifully simple at its first appointment, should have been obscured and mystified by man's inventions! What a painful proof it is of human corruption, that some of the bitterest controversies which have disturbed the Church, have been concerning the table of the Lord. Great indeed is the ingenuity of man, in perverting God's gifts! The ordinance that should have been for his wealth is too often made an occasion of falling.
We should notice, for one thing in these verses, that the principal object of the Lord's supper was to remind Christians of Christ's death for sinners. In appointing the Lord's supper, Jesus distinctly tells His disciples that they were to do what they did, "in remembrance of him." In one word, the Lord's supper is not a sacrifice. It is eminently a commemorative ordinance.
The bread that the believer eats, at the Lord's table, is intended to remind him of Christ's body given to death on the cross for his sins. The wine that he drinks is intended to remind him of Christ's blood shed to make atonement for his transgressions. The whole ordinance was meant to keep fresh in his memory the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and the satisfaction which that sacrifice made for the sin of the world. The two elements of bread and wine were intended to preach Christ crucified as our substitute under lively emblems. They were to be a visible sermon, appealing to the believer's senses, and teaching the old foundation-truth of the Gospel, that Christ's death on the cross is the life of man's soul.
We shall do well to keep steadily in view this simple view of the Lord's supper. That a special blessing is attached to a worthy use of it, as well to the worthy use of every ordinance appointed by Christ, there is of course no doubt. But that there is any other means by which Christians can eat Christ's body, and drink Christ's blood excepting by faith, we must always steadily deny. He that comes to the Lord's table with faith in Christ, may confidently expect to have his faith increased by receiving the bread and wine. But he that comes without faith has no right to expect a blessing. Empty he comes to the ordinance and empty he will go away.
The less mystery and obscurity we attach to the Lord's supper, the better will it be for our souls. We should reject with abhorrence the unscriptural notion that there is any oblation or sacrifice in it--that the substance of the bread and wine is at all changed--or that the mere formal act of receiving the sacrament can do any good to the soul.
We should cling firmly to the great principle laid down at its institution, that it is eminently a commemorative ordinance, and that reception of it without faith and a thankful remembrance of Christ's death can do us no good. The words of the Church Catechism are wise and true--"It was ordained for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ." The declaration of the Articles is clear and distinct--"The means whereby the body of Christ is received and taken in the supper, is faith." The exhortation of the Prayer-Book points out the only way in which we can feed on Christ--"Feed on Him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving." Last, but not least, the caution of the Homily is most instructive--"Let us take heed, lest of the memory it be made a sacrifice."
We should notice, for another thing, in these verses, that the observance of the Lord's Supper is a duty binding on all true Christians. The words of our Lord on this point are direct and emphatic--"Do this in remembrance of me." To suppose, as some do, that these words are only an injunction to the apostles and all ministers to administer the Lord's Supper to others, is a thoroughly unsatisfactory interpretation. The obvious sense of the words is a general precept to all disciples.
The command before us is overlooked to a fearful extent. Myriads of members of Christian churches never go to the Lord's table. They would be ashamed perhaps to be known as open breakers of the ten commandments. Yet they are not ashamed of breaking a plain command of Christ! They appear to think there is no great sin in not being communicants. They seem utterly unconscious that if they had lived in the days of the apostles they would not have been reckoned Christians at all.
The subject no doubt is one on which we must beware of mistakes. It is not, of course, to be desired that every baptized person should receive the Lord's Supper as a mere matter of form. It is an ordinance which was intended for the living, and not for the dead in sins. But when we see vast numbers of church-goers never going to the Lord's table, and no way ashamed of their neglect of the sacrament, it is clear that there is something very wrong in the state of the churches. It is a sign either of wide-spread ignorance, or of callous indifference to a divine precept. When such multitudes of baptized people habitually break a command of Christ, we cannot doubt that Christ is displeased.
What are we doing ourselves? This, after all, is the point that concerns us. Do we stay away from the Lord's Supper under a vague notion that there is no great necessity for receiving it? If we hold such an opinion, the sooner we give it up the better. A plain precept of God's own Son is not to be trifled with in this way. Do we stay away from the Lord's Supper because we are not fit to be communicants? If we do, let us thoroughly understand that we are not fit to die. Unfit for the Lord's table, we are unfit for heaven, and unprepared for the judgment day, and not ready to meet God! Surely this is a most serious state of things. But the words before us are clear and explicit. Christ gives us a plain command. If we wilfully disobey it, we are in danger of ruining our souls. If we are not fit to obey it, we ought to repent without delay.
Let us notice, lastly, WHO were the communicants at the first appointment of the Lord's Supper. They were not all holy. They were not all believers. Luke informs us that the traitor, Judas Iscariot, was one of them. The words of our Lord admit of no other fair interpretation. "Behold," He says, "the hand of him that betrays me is with me on the table."
The lesson of these words is deeply important. They show us that we must not regard all communicants as true believers and sincere servants of Christ. The evil and good will be found side by side even at the Lord's Supper. No discipline can possibly prevent it. They show us furthermore that it is foolish to stay away from the Lord's Supper because some communicants are unconverted, or to leave a church because some of its members are unsound. The wheat and the tares will grow together until the harvest. Our Lord himself tolerated a Judas at the first communion that ever took place. The servant of God must not pretend to be more exclusive than his Master. Let him see to his own heart, and leave others to answer for themselves to God.
And now, if we are not communicants, let us ask ourselves, as we leave this passage, "Why are we not? What satisfactory reason can we possibly give for neglecting a plain command of Christ?" May we never rest, until we have looked this inquiry in the face! If we are communicants, let us take heed that we receive the sacrament worthily. "The sacraments have a wholesome effect and operation in those only, who worthily receive them." Let us often enquire whether we repent, and believe, and strive to live holy lives. So living we need not be afraid, to eat of that bread and drink of that cup, which the Lord has commanded to be received.
WHO IS THE GREATEST?
Let us observe, in this passage, how firmly pride and love of preeminence can stick to the hearts of Christian men. We are told that "There was a dispute among the disciples, as to which of them should be considered the greatest." The strife was one which had been rebuked by our Lord on a former occasion. The ordinance which the disciples had just been receiving, and the circumstances under which they were assembled, made the strife peculiarly inappropriate. And yet at this very season, the last quiet time they could spend with their Master before His death, this little flock begins a dispute, as to who should be the greatest! Such is the heart of man, ever weak, ever deceitful, ever ready, even at its best times, to turn aside to what is evil.
The sin before us is a very old one. Ambition, self-esteem, and self-conceit lie deep at the bottom of all men's hearts, and often in the hearts where they are least suspected. Thousands imagine that they are humble, who cannot bear to see an equal more honored and favored than themselves. Few indeed can be found who rejoice heartily in a neighbor's promotion over their own heads. The quantity of envy and jealousy in the world is a glaring proof of the prevalence of pride. Men would not envy a brother's advancement if they had not a secret thought that their own merit was greater than his.
Let us live on our guard against this sore disease, if we make any profession of serving Christ. The harm that it has done to the Church of Christ is far beyond calculation. Let us learn to take pleasure in the prosperity of others, and to be content with the lowest place for ourselves. The rule given to the Philippians should be often before our eyes--"In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves." The example of John the Baptist is a bright instance of the spirit at which we should aim. He said of our Lord, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (Phil. 2:3; John 3:30.)
Let us observe, secondly, in this passage, the striking account which our Lord gives of true Christian greatness. He tells His disciples that the worldly standard of greatness was the exercise of 'lordship and authority'. "But you," He says, "shall not be so. He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that serves." And then He enforces this principle by the mighty fact of His own example--"I am among you as he that serves."
Usefulness in the world and Church--a humble readiness to do anything, and put our hands to any good work--a cheerful willingness to fill any post, however lowly, and discharge any office, however unpleasant, if we can only promote happiness and holiness on earth--these are the true tests of Christian greatness. The hero in Christ's army is not the man who has rank, and title, and dignity, and chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. It is the man who looks not on his own things, but the things of others. It is the man who is kind to all, tender to all, thoughtful for all, with a hand to help all, and a heart to feel for all. It is the man who spends and is spent to make the vice and misery of the world less, to bind up the broken-hearted, to befriend the friendless, to cheer the sorrowful, to enlighten the ignorant, and to raise the poor. This is the truly great man in the eyes of God. The world may ridicule his labors and deny the sincerity of his motives. But while the world is sneering, God is pleased. This is the man who is walking most closely in the steps of Christ.
Let us follow after greatness of this sort, if we desire to prove ourselves Christ's servants. Let us not be content with clear head-knowledge, and loud lip-profession, and keen insight into controversy, and fervent zeal for the interests of our own party. Let us see that we minister to the needs of a sin-burdened world, and do good to bodies and souls. Blessed be God! the greatness which Christ commended is within the reach of all. All have not learning, or gifts, or money. But all can minister to the happiness of those around them, by passive or by active graces. All can be useful, and all can be kind. There is a grand reality in constant kindness. It makes the men of the world think.
Let us observe, thirdly, in this passage, our Lord's gracious commendation of His disciples. He said to them, "You have remained true to me in my time of trial." There is something very striking in these words of praise. We know the weakness and infirmity of our Lord's disciples during the whole period of His earthly ministry. We find Him frequently reproving their ignorance and lack of faith. He knew full well that within a few hours they were all going to forsake Him. But here we find Him graciously dwelling on one good point in their conduct, and holding it up to the perpetual notice of His Church. They had been faithful to their Master, notwithstanding all their faults. Their hearts had been right, whatever had been their mistakes. They had clung to Him in the day of His humiliation, when the great and noble were against Him. They had "remained true to Him in His time of trial."
Let us rest our souls on the comfortable thought that the mind of Christ is always the same. If we are true believers, let us know that He looks at our graces more than at our faults, that He pities our infirmities, and that He will not deal with us according to our sins. Never had a master such poor, weak servants as believers are to Christ--but never had servants such a compassionate and tender Master as Christ is to believers! Surely we cannot love Him too well. We may come short in many things. We may fail in knowledge and courage, and faith, and patience. We may stumble many times. But one thing let us always do. Let us love the Lord Jesus with heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. Whatever others do, let us "remain true to Him," and cleave to Him with purpose of heart. Happy is he who can say with Peter, however humbled and ashamed, "Lord, you know that I love you." (John 21:15.)
Let us observe, lastly, what a glorious promise our Lord holds out to His faithful disciples. He says, "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father has appointed unto me; that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
These words were our Lord's parting legacy to His little flock. He knew that in a few hours His ministry among them would be ended. He winds it up by a wonderful declaration of good things laid up in store for them. We may not perhaps see the full meaning of every part of the promise. Enough for us to know that our Lord promised His eleven faithful ones--glory, honor, and rewards, far exceeding anything they had done for Him. They had gone a little way with Him, like Barzillai with David, and done a little for Him. He assures them that they shall have in another world a recompense worthy of a king.
Let us leave the whole passage with the cheering thought that the wages which Christ will give to his believing people will be far out of proportion to anything they have done for Him. Their tears will be found in His bottle. Their least desires to do good will be found recorded. Their weakest efforts to glorify Him sill be found written in His book of remembrance. Not a cup of cold water shall miss its reward.
We learn, from these verses, what a fearful enemy the devil is to believers. We read that "the Lord said, Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat." He was near Christ's flock, though they saw him not. He was longing to accomplish their ruin, though they knew it not. The wolf does not crave the blood of the lamb more than the devil desires the destruction of souls.
The personality, activity, and power of the devil are not sufficiently thought of by Christians. This is he who brought sin into the world at the beginning, by tempting Eve. This is he who is described in the book of Job as "going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it." This is he whom our Lord calls "the prince of this world," a "murderer," and a "liar." This is he whom Peter compares to a "roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." This is he whom John speaks of as "the accuser of the brethren." This is he who is ever working evil in the churches of Christ, catching away good seed from the hearts of hearers, sowing tares amid the wheat, stirring up persecutions, suggesting false doctrines, and fomenting divisions. The world is a snare to the believer. The flesh is a burden and a clog. But there is no enemy so dangerous as that restless, invisible, experienced enemy, the devil.
If we believe the Bible, let us not be ashamed to believe that there is a devil. It is an dreadful proof of the hardness and blindness of unconverted men, that they can jest and speak lightly of Satan.
If we profess to have any real religion, let us be on our guard against the devil's devices. The enemy who overthrew David and Peter, and assaulted Christ Himself, is not an enemy to be despised. He is very subtle. He has studied the heart of man for six thousand years. He can approach us under the garb of an "angel of light." We have need to watch and pray, and put on the whole armor of God. It is a blessed promise, that if we resist him he will flee from us. It is a still more blessed thought, that when the Lord comes, He will bruise Satan under our feet, and bind him in chains. (James 4:7; Rom. 16:20.)
We learn, secondly, in these verses, one great secret of a believer's perseverance in the faith. We read that our Lord said to Peter, "I have prayed for you that your faith fail not." It was owing to Christ's intercession that Peter did not entirely fall away.
The continued existence of grace in a believer's heart is a great standing miracle. His enemies are so mighty, and his strength is so small--the world is so full of snares, and his heart is so weak--that it seems at first sight impossible for him to reach heaven. The passage before us explains his safety. He has a mighty Friend at the right hand of God, who ever lives to make intercession for him. There is a watchful Advocate, who is daily pleading for him, seeing all his daily necessities, and obtaining daily supplies of mercy and grace for his soul. His grace never altogether dies, because Christ always lives to intercede. (Heb. 7:25.)
If we are true Christians, we shall find it essential to our comfort in religion to have clear views of Christ's priestly office and intercession. Christ lives, and therefore our faith shall not fail. Let us beware of regarding Jesus only as one who died for us. Let us never forget that He is alive for evermore. Paul bids us specially remember that He is risen again, and is at the right hand of God, and also makes intercession for us. (Rom. 8:34.) The work that He does for His people is not yet over. He is still appearing in the presence of God for them, and doing for their souls what He did for Peter. His present life for them is just as important as His death on the cross eighteen hundred years ago. Christ lives, and therefore true Christians "shall live also."
We learn, thirdly, from these verses, the duty incumbent on all believers who receive special mercies from Christ. We read that our Lord said to Peter, "So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen and build up your brothers." It is one of God's peculiar attributes, that He can bring good out of evil. He can cause the weaknesses and infirmities of some members of His Church to work together for the benefit of the whole body of His people. He can make the fall of a disciple the means of fitting him to be the strengthener and upholder of others.
Have we ever fallen, and by Christ's mercy been raised to newness of life? Then surely we are just the men who ought to deal gently with our brethren. We should tell them from our own experience what an evil and bitter thing is sin. We should caution them against trifling with temptation. We should warn them against pride, and presumption, and neglect of prayer. We should tell them of Christ's grace and compassion, if they have fallen. Above all, we should deal with them humbly and meekly, remembering what we ourselves have gone through
Well would it be for the Church of Christ, if Christians were more ready to good works of this kind! There are only too many believers who in discussion add nothing to their brethren. They seem to have no Savior to tell of, and no story of grace to report. They chill the hearts of those they meet, rather than warm them. They weaken rather than strengthen. These things ought not so to be. The words of the apostle ought to sink down into our minds, "Having received mercy, we faint not. We believe, and therefore we speak." (2 Cor. 4:1, 13.)
We learn, lastly, from these verses, that the servant of Christ ought to use all reasonable means in doing his Master's work. We read that our Lord said to His disciples, "He that has a purse, let him take it, and likewise his bag; and he that has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one."
It is safest to take these remarkable words in a proverbial sense. They apply to the whole period of time between our Lord's first and second advents. Until our Lord comes again, believers are to make a diligent use of all the faculties which God has implanted in them. They are not to expect miracles to be worked, in order to save them trouble. They are not to expect bread to fall into their mouths, if they will not work for it. They are not to expect difficulties to be surmounted, and enemies to be overcome, if they will not wrestle, and struggle and take pains. They are to remember that it is "the hand of the diligent which makes rich." (Prov. 10:4.)
We shall do well to lay to heart our Lord's words in this place, and to act habitually on the principle which they contain. Let us labor, and toil, and give, and speak, and act, and write for Christ, as if all depended on our exertions. And yet let us never forget that success depends entirely on God's blessing! To expect success by our own "purse" and "sword" is pride and self-righteousness. But to expect success without the "purse and sword" is presumption and fanaticism. Let us do as Jacob did when he met his brother Esau. He used all innocent means to conciliate and appease him. But when he had done all, he spent all night in prayer. (Gen. 32:1-24.)
JESUS PRAYS ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
The verses before us contain Luke's account of our Lord's agony in the garden. It is a passage of Scripture which we should always approach with peculiar reverence. The history which it records is one of the "deep things of God." While we read it, the words of Exodus should come across our minds, "Put off your shoes from off your feet; the place whereon you stands is holy ground." (Exod. 3:5.)
We see, firstly, in this passage, an example of what believers ought to do in time of trouble. The great Head of the Church Himself supplies the pattern. We are told that when He came to the Mount of Olives, the night before He was crucified, "He knelt down and prayed."
It is a striking fact, that both the Old and New Testaments give one and the same receipt for bearing trouble. What does the book of Psalms say? "Call upon me in the time of trouble--I will deliver you." (Psalm 50:15.) What does the apostle James say? "Is any afflicted? let him pray." (James v. 13.) Prayer is the remedy which Jacob used, when he feared his brother Esau. Prayer is the remedy which Job used when property and children were suddenly taken from him. Prayer is the remedy which Hezekiah used when Sennacherib's threatening letter arrived. And prayer is the remedy which the Son of God Himself was not ashamed to use in the days of His flesh. In the hour of His mysterious agony He "prayed."
Let us take care that we use our Master's remedy, if we want comfort in affliction. Whatever other means of relief we use, let us pray. The first Friend we should turn to ought to be God. The first message we should send ought to be to the throne of grace. No depression of spirits must prevent us. No crushing weight of sorrow must make us speechless. It is a prime device of Satan, to supply the afflicted man with false reasons for keeping silence before God. Let us beware of the temptation to brood sullenly over our wounds. If we can say nothing else, we can say, "I am oppressed--undertake for me." (Isaiah. 38:14.)
We see, secondly, in these verses, what kind of prayers a believer ought to make to God in time of trouble. Once more the Lord Jesus Himself affords a model to His people. We are told that He said, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me--nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done." He who spoke these words, we must remember, had two distinct natures in one Person. He had a human will as well as a divine. When He said, "Not my will be done," He meant that will which He had as a man, with a body, flesh and blood, like our own.
The language used by our blessed Master in this place shows exactly what should be the spirit of a believer's prayer in his distress. Like Jesus, he should tell his desires openly to his heavenly Father, and spread His wishes unreservedly before Him. But like Jesus, he should do it all with an entire submission of will to the will of God. He should never forget that there may be wise and good reasons for His affliction. He should carefully qualify every petition for the removal of crosses with the saving clause, "If you are willing." He should wind up all with the meek confession, "Not my will, but yours be done."
Submission of will like this is one of the brightest graces which can adorn the Christian character. It is one which a child of God ought to aim at in everything, if he desires to be like Christ. But at no time is such submission of will so needful as in the day of sorrow, and in nothing does it shine so brightly as in a believer's prayers for relief. He who can say from his heart, when a bitter cup is before him, "Not my will, but yours be done," has reached a high position in the school of God.
We see, thirdly, in these verses, an example of the exceeding guilt and sinfulness of sin. We are meant to learn this in Christ's agony and bloody sweat, and all the mysterious distress of body and mind which the passage describes. The lesson at first sight may not be clear to a careless reader of the Bible. But the lesson is there.
How can we account for the deep agony which our Lord underwent in the garden? What reason can we assign for the intense suffering, both mental and bodily, which He manifestly endured? There is only one satisfactory answer. It was caused by the burden of a world's imputed sin, which then began to press upon Him in a peculiar manner. He had undertaken to be "sin for us"--to be "made a curse for us"--and to allow our iniquities to be laid on Himself. (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; Isaiah. 53:6.) It was the enormous weight of these iniquities which made Him suffer agony. It was the sense of a world's guilt pressing Him down which made even the eternal Son of God sweat great drops of blood, and called from Him "strong crying and tears." The cause of Christ's agony was man's sin. (Heb. 5:7.)
We must beware jealously of the modern notion that our blessed Lord's life and death were nothing more than a great example of self-sacrifice. Such a notion throws darkness and confusion over the whole Gospel. It dishonors the Lord Jesus, and represents Him as less resigned in the day of death than many a modern martyr. We must cling firmly to the old doctrine that Christ was "bearing our sins," both in the garden and on the cross. No other doctrine can ever explain the passage before us, or satisfy the conscience of guilty man.
Would we see the sinfulness of sin in its true colors? Would we learn to hate sin with a godly hatred? Would we know something of the intense misery of souls in hell? Would we understand something of the unspeakable love of Christ? Would we comprehend Christ's ability to sympathize with those that are in trouble? Then let the agony in the garden come often into our minds. The depth of that agony may give us some idea of our debt to Christ.
We see, lastly, in these verses, an example of the feebleness of the best of saints. We are told that while our Lord was in agony, His disciples fell asleep. In spite of a plain injunction to pray, and a plain warning against temptation the flesh overcame the spirit. While Christ was sweating great drops of blood, His apostles slept!
Passages like these are very instructive. We ought to thank God that they have been written for our learning. They are meant to teach us humility. When apostles can behave in this way, the Christian who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall. They are meant to reconcile believers to death, and make them long for that glorious body which they will have when Christ returns. Then, and not until then, shall we be able to wait upon God without bodily weariness, and to serve Him day and night in His temple.
We should learn, for one thing, from these verses, that the worst and most wicked acts may be done under a show of love to Christ. We read that when the traitor Judas brought the enemies of Christ to take Him, he betrayed Him "with a kiss." He made a pretense of affection and respect, at the very moment when he was about to deliver his Master into the hands of his deadliest enemies.
Conduct like this, unhappily, is not without its parallels. The pages of history record many an instance of enormous wickedness wrought out and perfected under the garb of religion. The name of God has too often been pressed into the service of persecution, treachery, and crime. When Jezebel would have Naboth killed, she ordered a "fast to be proclaimed," and false witnesses to accuse him of "blaspheming God and the king." ( 1 Kings 21:9-10.) When Count de Montfort led a crusade against the Albigenses, he ordered them to be murdered and pillaged, as an act of service to Christ's Church. When the Spanish Inquisition tortured and burned suspected heretics, they justified their abominable dealings by a profession of zeal for God's truth. The false apostle Judas Iscariot has never lacked successors and imitators. There have always been men ready to betray Christ with a kiss, and willing to deliver the Gospel to its enemies under a show of respect.
Conduct like this, we need not doubt, is utterly abominable in the sight of God. To injure the cause of religion under any circumstances is a great sin, but to injure it while we pretend to show kindness is the blackest of crimes. To betray Christ at any time is the very height of wickedness, but to betray Him with a kiss, proves a man to have become a very child of hell.
We should learn, for another thing, from these verses, that it is much easier to fight a little for Christ, than to endure hardness and go to prison and death for His sake. We read that when our Lord's enemies drew near to take Him, one of His disciples "smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear." Yet the zeal of that disciple was very short-lived. His courage soon died away. The fear of man overcame him. By and bye when our Lord was led away prisoner, he was led away alone. The disciple who was so ready to fight and smite with the sword, had actually forsaken his Master and fled!
The lesson before us is deeply instructive. To suffer patiently for Christ is far more difficult than to work actively. To sit still and endure calmly, is far more hard than to stir about and take part in the battle. 'Crusaders' will always be found more numerous than 'Martyrs'. The passive graces of religion are far more rare and precious than the active graces. Work for Christ may be done from many spurious motives--from excitement, from emulation, from party-spirit, or from love of praise. Suffering for Christ will seldom be endured from any but one motive. That motive is the grace of God.
We shall do well to remember these things in forming our estimate of the comparative grace of professing Christians. We err greatly if we suppose that those who do public work, and preach, and speak, and write, and fill the eyes of the Church, are those who are most honorable in God's sight. Such men are often far less esteemed by Him than some poor unknown believer, who has been lying for years on his back, enduring pain without a murmur. Their public efforts perhaps will prove at last to have brought less glory to Christ than his patience, and to have done less good than his prayers.
The grand test of grace is patient suffering. "I will show Saul," said the Lord Jesus, "what great things he shall suffer for my name." (Acts 9:16.) Peter, we may be sure, did far less good when he drew his sword and cut off a man's ear, than he did when be stood calmly before the council as a prisoner, and said, "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:20.)
We should learn, lastly, from these verses, that the time during which evil is permitted to triumph is fixed and limited by God. We read that our Lord said to His enemies when they took Him, "This is your hour and the power of darkness."
The sovereignty of God over everything done upon earth is absolute and complete. The hands of the wicked are bound until He allows them to work. They can do nothing without His permission. But this is not all. The hands of the wicked cannot stir one moment before God allows them to begin, and cannot stir one moment after God commands them to stop. The very worst of Satan's instruments are 'working in chains'. The devil could not touch Job's property or person until God allowed him. He could not prevent Job's prosperity returning, when God's designs on Job were accomplished. Our Lord's enemies could not take and slay him, until the appointed "hour" of His weakness arrived. Nor yet could they prevent His rising again, when the hour came in which He was declared the Son of God with power, by His resurrection from the dead. (Rom. 1:4.) When He was led forth to Calvary, it was "their hour." When He rose victorious from the grave, it was His.
The verses before us throw light on the history of believers in ages gone by, from the time of the apostles down to the present day. They have often been severely oppressed and persecuted, but the hand of their enemies has never been allowed entirely to prevail. The "hour" of their trials has generally been succeeded by a season of light. The triumph of their enemies has never been entire and complete. They have had their "hour," but they have had no more. After the persecution about Stephen, came the conversion of Paul. After the martyrdom of John Huss, came the German Reformation. After the Marian persecution, came the establishment of English Protestantism. The longest night has had its morning. The sharpest winters have been followed by spring. The heaviest storms have been changed for blue sky.
Let us take comfort in these words of our Lord, in looking forward to our own future lives. If we are followers of Christ, we shall have an "hour" of trial, and it may be a long hour too. But we may rest assured that the darkness shall not last one moment longer than God sees fit for us. In His good time it shall vanish away. "At evening time there shall be light."
Finally, let us take comfort in these words of our Lord, in looking forward to the future history of the Church and the world. Clouds and darkness may gather round the ark of God. Persecutions and tribulations may assail the people of God. The last days of the Church and world will probably be their worst days. But the "hour" of trial, however grievous, will have an end. Even at the worst we may boldly say, "The night is far spent and the day is at hand." (Rom. 13:12.)
PETER DISOWNS JESUS
The verses we have now read describe the fall of the apostle Peter. It is a passage which is deeply humbling to the pride of man, but singularly instructive to true Christians. The fall of Peter has been a beacon to the Church, and has probably preserved myriads of souls from destruction. It is a passage which supplies strong proof that the Bible is inspired and Christianity is from God. If the Christian religion had been the invention of uninspired men, its first historians would never have told us that one of the chief apostles denied his Master three times.
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 men 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 manner 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 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 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 greater spiritual privileges than most men in the world. 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 painful 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 love of man or woman. It exceeds all other love, as far as the sun exceeds the rushlight. 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, we surely need not think it 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 thing and a bitter that you have forsaken the Lord." (Jer. 2:19.) He felt keenly the truth of Solomon's saying, "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways." (Prov. 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 shows itself in real turning to a Father in heaven. 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 as there was for him. But above all, let us remember, that if we fall as Peter fell, we must repent as Peter repented, or else we shall never be saved.
We should notice, firstly, in these verses, the shameful treatment that our Lord Jesus Christ underwent at the hands of His enemies. We read that the men who held Him, "mocked" Him, "smote" Him, "blindfolded" Him, and "struck Him on the face." It was not enough to have taken a prisoner a person of most blameless and charitable life. They must needs add insult to injury.
Conduct like this shows the desperate corruption of human nature. The excesses of savage malice to which unconverted men will sometimes go, and the fierce delight with which they will sometimes trample on the most holy and the most pure, almost justify the strong saying of an old divine, that "man left to himself is half-beast and half-devil." He hates God and all who bear anything of God's image about them. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." (Rom. 8:7.) We have probably a very faint idea of what the world would become, if it were not for the constant restraint that God mercifully puts upon evil. It is not too much to say that if unconverted men had their own way entirely, the earth would soon be little better than a hell.
Our Lord's calm submission to insults like those here described, shows the depth of His love towards sinners. Had He so willed, He could have stopped the insolence of His enemies in a moment. He who could cast out devils with a word, could have summoned legions of angels to His side, and scattered those wretched tools of Satan to the winds. But our Lord's heart was set on the great work he had come on earth to do. He had undertaken to purchase our redemption by His own humiliation, and He did not flinch from paying the uttermost farthing of the price. He had undertaken to drink the bitter cup of vicarious suffering to save sinners, and "for the joy set before Him He despised the shame," and drank the cup to the very dregs. (Heb. 12:2.)
Patience like that which our blessed Lord exhibited on this occasion should teach His professing people a mighty lesson. We should forbear all murmuring and complaining, and irritation of spirit, when we are ill-treated by the world. What are the occasional insults to which we have to submit compared to the insults which were heaped on our Master? Yet "when He was reviled He reviled not again. When He suffered He threatened not." He left us an example that we should walk in His steps. Let us go and do likewise. (1 Peter 2:21-23.)
We should notice, secondly, in these verses, the striking prophecy which our Lord delivers about His own coming glory. He says to His insulting enemies, "Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God." Did they find fault with His lowly appearance, and want a glorious Messiah? They would see Him in glory one day. Did they think He was weak, powerless, and contemptible, because at present there was no outward majesty about Him? They would behold Him one day in the most honorable position in heaven, fulfilling the well-known prophecy of Daniel, with all judgment committed to His hands. (Dan. 7:9, 10.)
Let us take heed that the future glory of Christ forms a part of our creed, as much as Christ's cross and passion. Let it be a first principle in our religion, that the same Jesus who was mocked, despised, and crucified, is He who has now "all power in heaven and earth and will one day come again in His Father's glory with all His angels."
We see but half the truth if we see nothing but the cross and the first advent. It is essential to our own comfort to see also the second advent, and the crown. That same Jesus who stood before the bar of the high priest and of Pilate, will one day sit upon a throne of glory and summon all His enemies to appear before Him. Happy is that Christian who keeps steadily before his mind that word "hereafter!" Now in this present time believers must be content to take part in their Master's sufferings and with Him to be weak. "Hereafter" they shall share in His glory, and with Him be strong. Now like their Lord they must not be surprised if they are mocked, despised, and disbelieved. "Hereafter" they shall sit with Him on the right hand of God.
We should notice, lastly, in these verses, what a full and bold confession our Lord makes of His own Messiahship and divinity. We read that in answer to this question of His enemies, "Then you claim you are the Son of God?" Jesus replied, "You are right in saying that I am." The meaning of this short sentence may not be clear at first sight to an English reader. It signifies in other words, "You speak the truth. I am, as you say, the Son of God."
Our Lord's confession deprived His enemies of all excuse for unbelief. The Jews can never plead that our Lord left their forefathers in ignorance of His mission, and kept them in doubt and suspense. Here we see our Lord telling them plainly who he was, and telling them in words which would convey even more to a Jewish mind than they do to ours. And yet the confession had not the least good effect upon the Jews! Their hearts were hardened by prejudice. Their minds were darkened by judicial blindness. The veil was over the eyes of their inward man. They heard our Lord's confession unmoved, and only plunged deeper into the most dreadful sin.
The bold confession of our Master upon this occasion, is intended to be an example to all His believing people. Like Him, we must not shrink from speaking out when occasion requires our testimony. The fear of man, and the presence of a multitude must not make us hold our peace. (Job 31:34.) We need not blow a trumpet before us, and go out of our way, to proclaim our own religion. Opportunities are sure to occur in the daily path of duty, when, like Paul on board ship, we may show "whose we are and whom we serve." (Acts 27:23.) At such opportunities, if we have the mind of Christ, let us not be afraid to show our colors. A confessing Master loves bold, uncompromising, and confessing disciples. Those who honor Him by an outspoken, courageous testimony, He will honor, because they are walking in His steps. "Whoever," He says, "shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 10:32.)