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BY ALEXADER GARDIER MERCER, D.D.
And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon, the son of Jona :
thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, A stone. —
John i., 42.
This is the first meeting of the Lord with his great
apostle, and this the " All hail ! *' with which he greets
him. He penetrated at once the main peculiarity of
Peter's character, and said, **Thou shalt be called a
stone." He saw in him a rough, frank hardihood, a de-
votion and boldness which could take responsibilities, and
These qualities made Peter naturally eminent among
the apostles from the first. Everywhere he was the head
and representative of his brethren, always speaking out
what he thought, earnestly and plainly, sometimes pre-
sumptuously and irreverently. Whatever faults he had in
his heart, there was that which atoned for all faults, — a
sense of what is high, and unhesitating loyalty to it, — a
standing quality like the rock. He was a Galilean. ow
Galilee was a rude region, despised at the metropolis ;
but it is usually the case in the history of national char-
acter, that the very remoteness and obscurity of a dis-
trict best preserve its antique type. Here in Galilee was
the best of the old Jewish life which yet remained, the
1 84 BIBLE CHARACTERS.
purest of the ancient traditions and feelings of the Jews.
So that the fisherman Simon, bred to labor upon the re-
mote Sea of Galilee, was yet, by the very distance and
rudeness of his place and people, and by the way of his
own life, kept pure in the simplicity and in the best spirit
of the old religion. He was ignorant, to be sure, and
narrow, for he was a plain rude man ; yet the great prim-
itive insights of the old prophets were in him uncor-
rupted, and he had a basis -of religious convictions, which,
though of an altogether Jewish type, were genuine.
Thus we find that at the very first miracle which was
wrought before him — the great draught of fishes — there
is no mincing or reluctance in the convictions of Peter.
He says, ** Depart from me; for I am a sinful man,
O Lord." He beholds at once the majesty of Christ;
and, what is better still, the power of Christ introduces
him at once to the holiness of Christ, and that reveals
at once to Simon^s heart how unholy and unworthy
Simon is. Since he had such' a nature we are not sur-
prised to find the general openness of his heart to his
Master, the affectionate loyalty; and gradually, as he
saw and listened, and new lights entered, we are not sur-
prised that it was he who, in spite of his Judaism, first
distinctly recognized who the Lord was. When the most
advanced even of the apostles had gone no further than
to admit that this Jesus was a prophet, or was " that
prophet," he saw Him, and saw Him through his own
SIMO PETER. 1 8$
We think we all see alike, but the heart is a peculiar
sort of glass : it may be so white and noble itself that it
sees clearly white and noble things, or it may be so mean
and murky that the Apollo looks to it like a satyr. *' But
whom say ye that I am ? ** There was no answer till one
sprang forward and said, " Thou art the Christ, the Son
of the living God." By one noble act of heart-prompted
reverence and faith Peter broke through into the great
secret which no eye had yet seen. *' Thou art the Christ."
Here begins the noble eminence of Peter. He, standing
highest, first saw the ascending Sun and the morning
spread upon the mountains, and his voice first proclaimed,
" This is He ! " And if we remember, too, that this was
at the great crisis when all men were deserting the Christ,
— that Peter then, when the mean always grow meaner,
the cowards more cowardly, stood forth to acknowledge
and announce him, we see that this Simon the son of
Jona, of a rude Galilean speech, a mere fisherman, was in
spiritual life at that moment the foremost man of the
world ; and we see the same thing in another speech of
his made at about the same period. " From that time,"
says St. John, " many of his disciples went back, and
walked no more with him." There was a general forsak-
ing of him. *' Then said Jesus unto the twelve. Will ye
also go away ? " (or, " Surely ye are not also bent on leav-
ing me ? ") Then Simon Peter answered him : ** Lord, to
whom shall we go ? thou hast the words of eternal life.
And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ,
the Son of the living God."
1 86 BIBLE CHARACTERS.
It was on the ground of this noble confession, which
implied so much, that Christ pronounced upon him that
most memorable blessing : '' Blessed art thou, Simon
Bar-jona ; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto
thee, but my Father which is in heaven " ; — blessed art
thou who hast discovered what no signs in the heavens
or on the earth, what no wisdom, no height of natural
gift, can show to man. Therefore unto thee, who hast
declared to me who I am, I shall declare who thou art, —
'*I say unto thee. That thou art Peter," — thou art the
stone, — " and upon this rock I will build my church ; and
the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will
give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven : and
whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in
heaven ; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall
be loosed in heaven."
These are remarkable words, and have acted like a
dreadful fate in the world. To this moment they seem
a puzzle to many people. The mightiest church in the
history of Christianity — that church that is called Catho-
lic and Roman, and might be called Petrine (the church
of Peter) — is built on the belief that these words gave to
Peter, strictly and personally to him and to his succes-
sors, the spiritual throne of the world.
ow this, it seems to me, is too puerile for much dis-
cussion. A church built on a text susceptible of various
interpretations! The obvious meaning is this: that
the spirit of all daring, mighty, rock-like faith, which
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prompted Peter's words, was to be the base of the
Church ; that he, as coming first in that spirit, was the
first stone of the Church ; that this fact gave a deserved
prestige to him, which, however, was conditional upon
his continuance and eminence in that spirit ; and that he
should rise or fall, take the first place or the third place or
no place, just as he showed the superiority or the in-
feriority of his faith.
Accordingly we find that this Peter, here made the rock
and king of the Church, is addressed in another place as
Satan himself : *' Get thee behind me, Satan ; for thou
savorest not the things that be of God, but the things
that be of men." So we see that it was not Peter simply
and absolutely who seemed so exalted and illustrious to
the eyes of his Master, but it was the Peter who was in
that spirit, and while he continued in that spirit, and just
in proportion as he kept himself up to that great moment
of its power when the blessing was first pronounced. In
other words, it was an honor placed upon him, both ex-
alted and personal, but conditional. Thou, Peter, being
such a one, and all like thee, are the foundation-stones
of my church. He who, when rising high in that spirit,
was a prince and king of the Church, when sinking down
from that was regarded as nothing and nobody. Look
at the narrative. After his glorious confession, he is set
forth again and again in such a light as seems almost an
open satire on him and his claims or any such claims for
him. He, the rocky who will never deny the Master
1 88 BIBLE CHARACTERS.
'* though all men should," — ^he denies him, we find, with
every circumstance of a pitiful cowardice, and thrice
before the crowing of the morning cock ! He, the rock,
ran off, we find, with all the rest, — ** forsook him and
fled ! '* He, of such divine insight as to hold the keys
and open and shut the gates of heaven to immortal
spirits, — he misconceives at every turn the truth of his
Master as to the simplest things, and is at the best but a
blunderer to the last.
From this glance at the history of Peter we learn this
one great lesson among many others, — namely, that there
is one fact as to all human spirits lying the deepest, and
to every such spirit more important than any other fact
whatever. It is this : that each soul stands high, has its
rank of light, of dignity, and of power, from the clearness
with which it sees that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of
the living God," — that is, the clearness with which it
sees, loves, obeys the Highest. The test of every creature
is its ability to see, to find out, the best, and to be \oydl
to that with the whole soul. The question asked of
those simple Galilean men is the one question asked of
all : — " Whom say ye that I am ? " Just as you can an-
swer that, is revealed all that is in you, all your value.
Words are easy, — to say creeds, — yes, and to make them,
— ** I believe this and that ; I believe," — but no man can
say with depth, " I believe and am sure that thou art the
Christ, the Highest," unless from the highest spirit speak-
ing in his own soul. So also as to all other highest
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things, mark this: the heart which most quickly sees,
loves, gives itself up to the noblest, though it looks
mean and disguised to the common eye, has the blessing
of heaven, — " Blessed art thou ! "
We are most of us worshippers of some counterfeit ;
but be assured the height of our God settles it how high
we are. The Church of the future is before us; who
shall be its foundation-stones? ot certainly the men
who deny the sublime trusts of the heart, — who will ven-
ture nothing on the strength of the divine instincts, — cer-
tainly not these, but those who can discern the heavenly,
call it by what name you will, who can abandon all to it,
who can say, " I believe and am sure," — these are the
rocks of the world, and on these rocks the Church of the
living God shall always be built, " and the gates of hell
shall not prevail against it."
The old miracles can be acted again. What was Peter
but an organ for the wind of the Spirit? o more.
His colossal name is inscribed to-day upon the most
magnificent temple which stands built upon the earth,
and written in great letters of gold round the lofty dome
we read, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will
build my church.'*
Yes, and you, simple soul in the common ways of life,
rising above your cares and errors and distrusts, and in
single-hearted, full reliance resting all upon God, daring
to believe the things no eye can see, which flesh and
blood cannot reveal, — you also are a rock and foundation,
and the gates of hell cannot prevail against you.
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