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33Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”

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33. Peter answering. Though Peter uses no hypocrisy, but speaks with sincere affection, yet as a false confidence in his virtue carries him away into foolish boasting, he is justly reproved by Christ, and shortly afterwards is severely punished for his rashness. Thus the event showed, that Peter promised more for himself than he was able to accomplish, because he had not been sufficiently careful to examine himself. Hence too we see more clearly, how stupid is the intoxication of human presumption, that, when he is again reminded of his weakness by the Son of God, and that with the solemnity of an oath, he is so far from yielding, or even from making any abatement of his foolish confidence, that he goes on to show those lofty pretensions with more fierceness than ever.

But it is asked, Had not Peter a right to hope what he promises for himself? and was he not even bound, relying on the promise of Christ, to make this promise for himself? I answer, When Christ formerly promised to his disciples the spirit of unshaken fortitude, he referred to a new state of things which followed the resurrection; and, therefore, as they were not yet endued with heavenly power, Peter, forming confident expectations from himself, goes beyond the limits of faith. He erred in two respects. First, by anticipating the time he made a rash engagement, and did not rely on the promise of the Lord. Secondly, shutting his eyes on his own weakness, and under the influence of thoughtlessness rather than of courage, he undertook more than the case, warranted.

This claims our attention, that every man, remembering his own weakness, may earnestly resort to the assistance of the Holy Spirit; and next, that no man may venture to take more upon himself than what the Lord promises. Believers ought, indeed, to be prepared for the contest in such a manner that, entertaining no doubt or uncertainty about the result and the victory, they may resist fear; for trembling and excessive anxiety are marks of distrust. But, on the other hand, they ought to guard against that stupidity which shakes off all anxiety, and fills their minds with pride, and extinguishes the desire to pray. This middle course between two faulty extremes 199199     “Entre ces deux extremitez vicieuses.” is very beautifully expressed by Paul, when he enjoins us to

 

work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that worketh in us to will and perform,
(Philippians 2:12, 13.)

For, on the one hand, having humbled us, he entreats us to seek supplies elsewhere; and, on the other hand, lest anxiety should induce sloth, he exhorts us to strenuous exertions. And, therefore, whenever any temptation is presented to us, let us first remember our weakness, that, being entirely thrown down, we may learn to seek elsewhere what we need; and, next, let us remember the grace which is promised, that it may free us from doubt. For those who, forgetting their weakness, and not calling on God, feel assured that they are strong, act entirely like drunken soldiers, who throw themselves rashly into the field, but, as soon as the effects of strong drink are worn off, think of nothing else than flight.

It is wonderful that the other disciples, after Peter had been reproved, still break out into the same rashness; and hence it is evident how little they knew themselves. We are taught by this example, that we ought to attempt nothing, except so far as God stretches out his hand; for nothing is more fading or transitory than inconsiderate zeal. The disciples perceive that nothing is more base or unreasonable than to forsake their Master; and, therefore, they justly detest so infamous an action: but, having no reliance on the promise, and neglecting prayer, they advance with inconsiderate haste to boast of a constancy which they did not possess.




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