PETER'S FALL TO THE K EES OF JESUS BROOKE FOSS WESTCOTT, D.D., D.C.L.

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus knees, saying, Depart from me ; for I am a sinful man, Lord. ST. LUKE v. 8. THESE words seem to me to form a very natural introduction to our Lenten season. They gather up in a brief space the thoughts which are most present with us thoughts of our own weakness and failures, thoughts of God s holiness and nearness. Such thoughts may be fruitful in blessing to us ; they may and we must not leave out the alternative prove only a lesson wasted. This double aspect of the subject is presented to us very clearly in Holy Scripture. There are two cases recorded in the Gospels in which those who had recognised in the Lord the mani festation of a divine power prayed to be delivered from the overwhelming judgment of His awful presence. The one, in the eighth chapter of St. Matthew, was when the whole city of the Gergesenes, alarmed by the tidings of the swineherds, came out to meet fesus, and besought Him that He would depart out of their coasts \ the other we have heard in the Gospel of the day, in which St. Peter, astonished at the unexpected issue of his labour, fell down at Jesus 1

ii2 VILLAGE SERMO S xm knees, saying, Depart from me ; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. There is an outward resemblance in the two petitions, but they are essentially different in

occasion, in spirit, and in issue. Taken together they include as in a parable the contrasts of human life ; taken separately they are a revelation of our weakness and a revelation of our strength. To the Gergesenes Christ made Himself known by con trasted signs. He restored the demoniacs among them to their right mind ; but at the same time He suffered their swine to be lost in the sea. P"or them the material loss outweighed the spiritual gain. It was of little moment that the souls of their fellow-men were set free from the dominion of evil, if the hope of their unclean profit was thereby taken away. In that Presence which purified as it were by fire, they saw nothing for the future but disaster. They begged to be left to themselves : in act they repeated the very prayer of the evil spirits, that they might not be tormented before their time ; and so Christ left them. To St. Peter, on the other hand, Christ made Himself known by a blessing granted to faithful work. He was weary with toiling and yet ready for fresh labour. The night was spent, when the prospect of his work was best, and yet at the strange Teacher s word for so only as yet he knew Christ he was willing to let down his net in the broad daylight. The words which he had just heard moved him to obedience if not to hope. And when the crowning sign was given, he saw at once its inner significance. He knew that he was face to

xin VILLAGE SERMO S 113 face with God. And at that supreme crisis it was not loss or gain of which he thought, but simply of sin. As a sinful man and the original word is personal and not general he felt that he could not stand before his Lord and live. But it was this

very sin, felt and confessed, which Christ had come to take away ; and so He did not leave him. ow these two narratives are for us, as I have said, a parable of life in its highest aspects. They show us how we may deal with the manifestations which God is pleased to make to us of His judgment or of His love ; how these may be to us an occasion of final abandonment or a call to a new and nobler charge. They do not belong to an obsolete order of things, but to that under which we live. The revelation of the nearness of God is not less real, not less solemn now than it was in old times. It is not less real. When we look at the two narratives which I have put together, we shall be struck by one point which they have in common. Where nearly all else is different, the Gergesenes and St. Peter were alike in this, that they recognised in the works which they saw a divine power. They could have explained them otherwise. There was nothing outward in them which might not and does not in some form or other happen to us in the ordinary course of God s Providence. But to them the child-like expression of an instinctive conviction was more natural than it is to us. The expression of the conviction was more natural, but not, I believe, the conviction itself. However much the fashion of modern thought may disguise or stifle the feeling, yet our own hearts bear witness within us to its

n 4 VILLAGE SERMO S xm existence. If we ask ourselves sincerely, we shall know that it is not a mere form of words if in some sorrow we say that it is the Lord s doing; or in some joy that it is the Lord s gift ; or in some work that it is the Lord s charge. The belief to which

such phrases bear witness is real, even when it is not energetic and abiding. Only let us be true to ourselves, true to our deepest instincts, true to every lesson of history and every experience of life, and we shall know that to us also God shows Himself in acts and words and thoughts, not less luminously, not less powerfully, than to the men of old time. We too may beseech Him to leave us, because we are unwilling to give up some unworthy idol, and He may leave us leave us like the Gergesenes, bereft of our treasure and yet without Him. We too may fall down in humblest acknowledgment of our sinfulness like St. Peter, and He may accept the offering which we render Him of His own gift, and call us to follow Him. Thus the revelation of the Presence of God to men is not, we may be assured, less real now than it once was, though it is modified in character, even as men themselves are changed ; and it is not, if we allow our selves to think of it, less solemn. If indeed we could realise it as vividly as outward things, the powers of life would be paralysed. When the Jews heard the voice of God from Horeb, they cried in an agony of distress, Why should we die ? for this great fire w ill consume us. And to us God is made known in more exceeding majesty. We can see, what they could not see, the far-reaching results of His laws, extending beyond all thought and investing each

xiii VILLAGE SERMO S 115 act with an infinite importance. It was an old belief that Lazarus, who had looked upon the mysteries of the other world and seen the issues of life as they are, never smiled again when he came back to the earth. The thought is a sombre one and only partly true, and yet it is partly true, and it

is well for us to look calmly at it, and so onward to the great hereafter. It is well for us to take measure, as God may enable us to do, of the contrast between what we are and wish to be, and what He is ; to set the thought of His immediate presence before us when we are beset by temptations or oppressed with weariness ; to recall what is the necessary destiny of a being with whom He can hold converse, when the routine of life seems trivial and disappointing. The very power which awes us will at the same time guard us ; and as we apprehend more fully the infinite relations of our transitory life with all that has been and all that will be, we shall work with more absolute patience, knowing that, wherever we are, we may be fellowworkers with God, even as we are partakers of the divine nature. Do not therefore, I would say to you all, drive away the thoughts of the presence of God. Do not drive away the thoughts of the terrible majesty and holiness of God which must come into your hearts from time to time, as if they were foreign to the revelation of the Gospel ; but rather cherish them as the foundation of some higher task. Strive, at such a season as this, to gain for them intensity and depth. They are not indeed the characteristic marks of the Christian mind, but they awaken it to

n6 VILLAGE SERMO S xm new energy. The consciousness of personal sin which they disclose is the first condition of forgive ness ; and the sense of forgiveness is the spring of active love. If, then, you regard the evident signs of the unapproachable purity and truth of God as showing you your weakness and your needs ; if they lead you to shrink from the face of God

because of your unworthiness and not because you are unwilling to lose that which would perish in His sight ; if you still cling to the knees of Christ when you pray Him to depart, the will of Christ will have been wrought in you, and though He may call you to abandon the gift which has revealed His presence, He will transform your common work with a spiritual power. So it is that the sense of the nearness of God, which at first appals us, becomes afterwards a necessity of life. It is not that the contrast between the Sinless and the sinful can ever grow less ; it is not that the difficulties and contradictions of the world are in any degree removed ; but in the Person of Christ that contrast is seen to be capable of being carried up to a final harmony ; and in the work of Christ the visible order in which man moves is seen to be but a small fraction of the whole order with which his destiny is bound up. In this way our eyes are opened that \ve should see a continual revelation of God in and through the common routine of duty. We learn practically that while in one sense we are infinitely removed from Him, yet in another sense it is in Him we live and move and have our being. For us the experience of St. Peter is fulfilled in action. When he first

xin VILLAGE SERMO S 117 recognised his divine Master by His marvellous gift, he prayed Him to depart from him. At a later time, when others were offended at the mysteries of Christ s teaching and walked no more with him, St. Peter was unmoved. As soon as the question was asked, Will ye also go away? he was prepared with the one true answer, Lord, to whom shall we go ? Thou Jiast the words of eternal life.

If indeed we have shared in any way St. Peter s fear, we shall also share St. Peter s faith. The lesson of Easter will follow the lesson of Lent. There is no other way in which we can truly live than fellowship with Christ. That Presence of God which in itself is of insupportable glory is tempered to us through His Son, and thus only, with human sympathy. Thus only we can feel Him near to us, and when stricken down yet cling to Him the closer. But without the possibility of a constant looking to God we may add year to year and grow or decay as time rolls on, but we cannot live. There is nothing else which can bind all the fragments of our existence together in a vital whole ; which can enable us to look backward and forward and claim a share in the past and in the future without diminish ing ought from the reality and permanence of the separate existences of which they are made up ; which can assure us that our connexion with the physical world is not limited by what we see, but extends to an undiscovered order of which this is but the image. Briefly, then, to sum up all that has been said, the revelation of the presence of God of God in Christ however awful in its first apprehension,

n8 VILLAGE SERMO S xm supports life, ennobles life, and in the end trans figures life. // supports life. We all know what is the power of a friend near us in person or in thought to keep us from evil, to rouse us to good, to make us like himself, exactly as he is pure and brave and generous. And if that Friend be as able to help us as He is

ready ; if His power anticipates our prayers ; if to the words Thou God seest me we can add also Thou God lovest me, what more is needed to guard us when we are hard pressed in the battle or to raise us when we are cast down ? // ennobles life. In every case by far the largest part of our time is filled up with little occupations of business or society which seem to have no moral value. Can the end of man be so magnificent, we are tempted to ask, when he is so often forced to forget the glory of his birthright and so rarely enabled to contemplate it ? But such misgivings disappear when we remember that the end is not yet ; that neither years nor action represent the actual efficacy of life ; that even here God is working, we know not how, towards issues which our conceptions of great and small are unable to measure ; that He has lived on earth in His Son ; that He is living now on earth through His Spirit in His Church. It transfigures life. The vision of God which is first, gained on earth, it may be, in times of great darkness and distress, and is inevitably obscured to the last with clouds of doubt and error and failure, is the pledge of its own more perfect accomplishment The divine glory is seen now here, now there, and though we cannot yet cither approach to or bear

xin VILLAGE SERMO S 119 its full brightness, we know that it is about us every where even where it is veiled, and thus wait in hope till it is openly shown. The spirit of sonship reposes without impatience in the counsels of the heavenly Father and looks forward to their con summation. Beloved, now are we children of God, and it doth not yet appear tvhat we shall be : but we know

that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him ; for ^ve shall see Him as He is. So at last, when death is swallowed up in victory, judgment also is set aside by the fulfilment in the believer of the Divine image. Then the Presence which was at first recognised for reproof shall be found to be for life. The glory of the Resurrection shall crown the Temptation in the Wilderness.

1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books

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