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If we consider with any degree of attention, the manner in which Peter was called to the ministry, the extraordinary trust and confidence placed in him by his divine master, the affection which he constantly expressed for him, we must acknowledge that he was in reality the last of our Lord's disciples from whom he had reason to expect that ungenerous treatment, which he afterwards received from him.
The first connection between Peter and our blessed Saviour, was occasioned by a circumstance of so singular a nature, as must doubtlefs have left the strongest impreflion on him, such a one we should indeed imagine as could never have been _effaced. The miraculous draught of fishes had, we know, so powerful an effect on the mind of Peter, that after con. fefling on his knees that he was a sinful man, he was immediately converted, quitted his profession, attached himself intirely to Jesus, forfook all, and followed him; our Saviour, in consequence of this behaviour, rewarded his firm adherence, by taking every opportunity of distinguishing him.
When the twelve were selected by him, and called forth from the number of his followers, to preach his gospel to all nations, we see the name of Simon, whom he firnamed Peter, ftanding foremost in the list; when Jesus went up
into the ,mountain to be transfigured, he was accompanied only by Peter, and two others, who were taken, as Scripture informs us, apart by themselves, an instance, no doubt, of his partial regard and affection for them, which
should never have been forgotten. Peter was probably at that time not infensible of the obligations which he had received, and made, we may suppose, the strongest resolutions of doing every thing in his power to return them. But such is the weakness of the human heart, that it is never to be relied, or depended on; there was a pride and inconstancy, and a timi- . dity and proneness to evil in the temper and disposition of Peter, which though he was himself a stranger to, did not escape the all-seeing eye of his divine Master: he had so high an opinion, as we read in St. Mark, of his own abilities, that he even took upon him to teach and reprove his great instructor: when our Saviour taught his doctrine openly, Peter took him and rebuked him: but he, when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, in his turn, and with much more reason, rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind mi, Satan, for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.
The severity of this reflection could only be equalled by the justice and propriety of it: he to whom all hearts were open, and all delires known, was no stranger to those peculiar weaknesses and imperfections, which his disciple was most subject to: the reproof, it is observable, at the same time that it condemned his present behaviour, was prophetic also of his future conduct ; the same cause was naturally productive of the same effect: Peter fazoured of the things that were of men. We are not there. fore so much suprised to find, that he who reKK
buked his master for preaching openly, should in the end deny and desert him.
So great a regard, notwithstanding, had our blessed Saviour for this apostle, and at the same time fo perfect a knowledge of his nature and difpofition, that we find him on another occafion severely reprehending him for a vice, which perhaps he did not imagine himself guilty of. When Peter said unto Jesus, We have left all and followed thee; Jesus turned to him and said, Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you. The instant that Peter began to boast of his friendship, our Saviour feems to have fufpected the integrity of it: when once pride enters into the heart of man, every virtue shrinks and diminishes at the approach of it; and the moment we begin to value ourselves on the performance of our duty, it ceases to be meritorious.
The truth of our Saviour's remark was but too exactly verified in the behaviour of Peter; for when the day of trial came, this confident and opinionated servant makes the strongest profellions of friendship and attachment to his injured and oppressed master: Though all men, says he, shall be offended because of thee
, yet will I never be offended. Then Jesus, who knew him much better than he did himself, replied, Veo rily, I say unto thee, that this night before the cock crow's thou shalt deny me thrice; and Peter faid unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee How faithfully he kept his word, and how religiously he fulfilled his promise we are not now to learn; for when our
blessed Saviour was given up to his enemies, betrayed, insulted, buffeted, and spit on, this zealous defender was alhamed even to be seen with him; he followed afar off, disclaimed even the least knowledge of, or acquaintance with him: A damsel came to him, saying, thou also was with Jesus of Galilee ; but he denied be fore them all, saying, I know not what thou Sayest: and when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth; and again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. How natural. ly, though imperceptibly, doth one vice produce another! Peter, not content with having already denied his master, now adds perjury to falsehood, and to strengthen his assertion, impiously swears that he knew not the man; this, we cannot help observing, is generally the consequence of lying; those who habituate themselves to the practice of one of these vices, are seldom very careful of avoiding the other. But, behold! whilft he was pouring forth his execrations, the cock crew.
The voice of thunder founding in his ears, could not have struck so forcibly on his imagination, as this little circumstance, which at once reminded him of his falsehood, upbraided his breach of promise, and set the whole of his base and inexcusable conduct, full before him: he was detected, aftonished, abashed, and confounded, and he remembered the words of Jesus, which faid unto him, Before the cock
crome', thou shalt deny me thrice: and he went out, and wept bitterly.
Having thus traced the lineaments of Peter's character, and illustrated the causes of his behaviour, permit me in the remainder of this discourse, to make a few reflections naturally arising from a view of his conduct, which may perhaps be of some service to us with regard
to our own.
And first then, From the example of Peter, we may learn that there is no dependance to be placed on human friendships ; no reliance on human virtue; but that man is weak and unstable in all his ways. There is no doubt but that Peter had contracted a real tenderness and affection for our Saviour; but it is equally indisputable, that he had by no means all that friendship and regard which he professed to have. We are indeed, for the most part, such flaves to our passions, that we seldom know to what degree we love or hate, till accident and circumitance give us the opportunity of proving it, and then we generally, when perhaps it is too late, discover the weakness of our nature, and learn by experience what ftrangers we are to our own hearts. When Peter said he would go with our Saviour to prison and to death, he very probably at that time intended fo to do; when danger is at a distance, it seems, like other objects, smaller and more inconfi. derable than it really is, and is consequently with the greater ease set at defiance, but in proportion as it advances, is magnified and increased. When Jesus was pursued, persecut