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ST. PETER'S REPENTANCE.
ST. MATT. xxvi. 75.
"He went out, and wept bitterly '
LET us proceed to-day with an endeavour to compare St. Peter s repentance with our own, and find out what some of the errors are, which in our days make true repentance so very rare, and innocence, baptismal innocence, so much rarer.
And first of all, with regard to these bitter tears of the penitent Apostle, concerning which we read in the text, it is very plain that if he had gone by the received maxims of men in cases like his, he had very little occasion to weep at all; certainly none to weep so much more bitterly than the generality of fallen Christians weep for their sins. For what is there to be said in excuse of those daily backslidings and disobediences, which most of us are in the habit of passing over so very slightly, which might not have been said to and of St. Peter, when he was afflicting his soul so sharply on account of his denial of our LORD? Might not he have said to himself, or might not St. John, who was there, have said to him—had St. John been as false a comforter to St. Peter as ordinary sinners are apt to be to each other—might it not have been said of St. Peter's fall, more truly than of most sins, that the temptation came suddenly upon him;" that "he was taken unawares ;" that his danger was great in confessing our LORD,
and, as far as could be seen, no great advantage could come of it? That, after all, he had been truer and more loyal to his MASTER than any other of the Apostles, except St. John; that if he did sin grievously, yet he made haste to recover; whereas so many other persons go on for months and weeks impenitent, instead of remembering themselves, and weeping bitterly, as he did, at the first signal from his LORD and MASTER, the first earnest look of JESUS CHRIST? Might not St. Peter, if ever man could, very well have flattered himself with the thought, that he was an especial favourite (if the word may be allowed) of his Divine MASTER? that, great as his sin might be, he was in a manner sure of forgiveness, since He had prayed for him, none of whose prayers to His FATHER ever can go up unheard, or in vain? CHRIST, St. Peter knew, had prayed for him, that his faith fail not; had spoken to him of his future conversion, or return to a better mind; and had bidden him, after that, to strengthen his brethren. What was there to hinder his saying to himself," After all, though my fall is shameful, yet God I know will not finally cast me away. I have no need then to practise any bitter repentance, no occasion to vex myself with severe self-denial, to wear sackcloth, and go very humbly."
We Te may, I think, very well imagine St. Peter himself, or some inconsiderate friend for him, making light of his sin in this way; but very different are all such imaginations from the true account of the penitent Apostle's behaviour. "He went out and wept bitterly." He seems to have sat alone, humbling himself for his great transgression, to the moment when he heard of his LORD'S Sepulchre being open, and the stone rolled away. We hear nothing of him as having been near the Cross at the moment of our LORD's giving up the ghost; if he had been, he certainly would have been mentioned together with the other highly favoured witnesses of CHRIST's death. But in all probability St. Peter was then bearing his own cross in solitude and silence. So grieved was he and vexed with himself for his hasty denial of the LORD who bought him, that the merciful SAVIOUR thought proper, even before He had appeared to any, to send him a message of comfort by an Angel, lest he be swallowed up with over much sorrow. For the Angel, who by the Providence of GoD appeared to the holy women first, sent this message to St. Peter, Go, tell His
Disciples," and especially "Peter, that He is risen from the dead." Why this particular message to St. Peter by name, except because just then he more than the others required to be assured of his LORD's gracious purpose towards him, and that his sin, great as it was, had not entirely separated between him and his SAVIOUR? And accordingly we find that St. Peter was the first of the Apostles, to whom Jesus, risen, graciously appeared face to face. He, in whose presence there is joy over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety-nine just ones that need no repentance; He made haste to see His erring, but deeply-repenting servant, and to assure him that He was ready to forgive, and most willing to pardon him.
All these are so many sure signs of St. Peter's very deep and earnest contrition; they show how little account he made of those vulgar and ordinary excuses, by which we too generally quiet our consciences for much greater sins, much longer continued than his. He, to use the expression of the Prophet Jeremiah, one of the great teachers of repentance in the old time, he “sate alone and kept silence;" he "put his mouth in the dust, if so be there might be hope." We, on the contrary, too generally make all haste to be easy and comfortable again; there is in our tears no fear, no zeal, no bitterness; and of course our repentance itself is too often imperfect, and too many of us, it is to be feared, go down to our graves without any thing like a due sense of our condition.
What is the chief reason of this great and alarming difference? Why are our measures of repentance so unlike his, who is held out to us by the New Testament as a pattern of recovery after a grievous relapse? The reason, one principal reason at least, may be given, I suppose, in two words. St. Peter wept bitterly, because he had a right notion of the honour and happiness from which he had fallen by his sin; we have dry eyes, or weep however and repent superficially, because we have not right notions of the baptismal innocency from which our sins have parted us.
We have seen what plenty of plausible excuses St. Peter, had he so pleased, might have found, wherewith to quiet those bitter tears of his; but he took none of them, he would listen to none, because he felt too deeply what a mere nothing they all were, set against the great and blessed privilege, which he had enjoyed, of
abiding so near his SAVIOUR, of being His friend, and receiving daily even visible blessings from HIM. Is it not certain that we too, every one of us, how entirely soever we have suffered it to pass from our minds; yet is it not certain that we too have been brought nearer than heart can conceive to our LORD and SAVIOUR? that He has "taken us up into His arms, put His hands upon us, and blessed us?" that having been "baptized into CHRIST," We have "put on CHRIST?" that we have been "washed, sanctified, justified, in the Name of the LORD JESUS and by the SPIRIT of our GOD?" that we have been baptized, and born again of water and of the HOLY GHOST, and were freed thereby from the curse and bondage of sin? that CHRIST, when we were little children, "sanctified and cleansed us with the washing of water by the Word," or Name of the FATHER, SON, and HOLY GHOST, pronounced over us in the moment of our Baptism? that God hath "saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the HOLY GHOST?" Are not all these things as certain as that we in our infancy were baptized, and that the Scriptures of GoD are true?
But if these things be indeed so; if Baptism to every infant whatever be really and truly an incorporation into CHRIST; if to infants it do most assuredly convey Regeneration, Justification, the beginning of Sanctification; then, inasmuch as we were baptized in our infancy, we know that we have been regenerated and justified, and that God has begun to sanctify us. Then, and at that moment, did the ALMIGHTY fulfil to us those great and precious promises, which in Holy Scripture are vouchsafed to all men entering into communion with JESUS CHRIST. Then were conveyed to us the heavenly blessings of entire forgiveness of sin, and deliverance from its power; those blessings of which our LORD's most astonishing miracles, the cleansing of the leper, the healing of the paralytic, the raising of the dead, were but shadows, and types, and figures.
If this be so, then our sins after Baptism must be so far like the sin of St. Peter; that they too were committed after our being brought near to CHRIST, and after our being admitted not only to partake with HIM, but also to partake of HIM. So much the more grievous are they, and so much the harder will it prove to repent of them thoroughly. They are not like the sins of heathens,
but much worse; yet the sins of heathens we know were inexcusable, and the wrath of GOD was revealed from Heaven against them. But the sins of Christians are much worse, just as the idolatry of the Jews was more offensive to the ALMIGHTY than the like idolatry in the nations around them; as He Himself warned them more than once: 'You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities." And again, "That which cometh into your minds shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone." In like manner is it said to Christians in the New Testament, "It were better for you not to have known the way of righteousness, than after you have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto you." And again," When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, and returns, the last state of that man is worse than the first."
And this, not only because of what common sense teaches, that the more a man knows of his duty the more inexcusable are his transgressions; but also because Holy Baptism is, according to the method of God's covenant of grace, the one ordained way of freeing us for ever from the guilt and stain of that sin in which we were born, as well as of all our past sins; and there is no promise, that after forfeiting our first baptismal purity by wilful sin, we shall ever again be restored in this world to the condition in which we were when just baptized. Nay, it seems to have been generally thought by the old Fathers of CHRIST'S Holy Catholic Church, that St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, where he speaks of some whom it was “impossible to renew again unto repentance," meant not those guilty of any one deadly sin in particular, but generally all those who fall into any grievous crime, or any wilful habit of sin and irreligion, after they have been once baptized. "It is impossible for those who have been once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly Gift, and were made partakers of the HOLY GHOST, and have tasted the good Word of GoD and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance." To be once for all enlightened, to taste the heavenly Gift, and be made partakers of the HOLY GHOST, to taste the good Word of GOD, and the powers of the world to come, are so many graces conveyed in Holy Bap