Krummacher: The Fall of Peter

Series: The Suffering Savior: Meditations on the Last Days of Christ by F. W. Krummacher (1796-1868)

[learn_more caption=”Introduction and Preface”] CMC Editor’s Note: In the following preface are the words of F.W. Krummacher introducing his readers to his work. It is our intention to post all fifty three of his meditations. Krummacher is regarded as one of Germany’s greatest preachers and was often compared to Great Britain’s C.H. Spurgeon. The reader will learn much of Christ through this series of devotional meditations on the final scenes in the life of Christ on earth. The printed work (first published 1854) has been described as the greatest single volume of the entire nineteenth century on the last days of Christ’s earthly ministry. The meditations are structured around the Old Testament tabernacle. It’s our prayer that you will be richly blessed his writings.

Author’s Preface

In the following meditations I trust I have succeeded in displaying to my readers at least a portion of those riches which are contained in the inexhaustible treasury of our Savior’s sufferings. Unmutilated scriptural truth, such as I believe I promulgate, still finds a favorable reception in the world, which I have been permitted to experience in the most gratifying manner. I mention it, solely to the praise of God, and for the satisfaction of those who are like-minded, that my writings, or at least a part of them, are, as I hear, already translated into English, French, Dutch, Swedish, and as I am assured, though I cannot vouch for the fact, into the Danish language also. My “Elijah the Tishbite” has even appeared in a Chinese attire. But that which is of greater importance, is the news I am constantly receiving of the manifold blessing which the Lord of his great and unmerited favor has bestowed upon my labors. That in his condescension and loving-kindness, He would also deign to bless this my most recent work is so much the more my heartfelt wish and ardent prayer, since it has for its subject the chief supporting pillar of the whole church—the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The division of the work into the “Outer Court,” the “Holy Place,” and the “Most Holy Place,” is intended merely to point out the different stages of the Redeemer’s sufferings, from their commencement to their close, but by no means to attach a less or greater importance to them. Had the latter been the case, I would naturally have assigned the institution of the Lord’s Supper its appropriate place in the “Most Holy Place,” instead of the “Outer Court.” But in the plan of this volume, it falls among the class of events, which immediately precede the propitiatory work of the Mediator.

~ F. W. Krummacher [/learn_more]




Meditation – XVIII

The Fall of Peter

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
— Proverbs 17:28

In addition to all his other sufferings, our blessed Lord had also to endure that of being denied by one of the little company of his confidential disciples, on whose fidelity he ought to have been able to reckon under all circumstances. His heart was not to be a stranger to any grief or pain, in order that he might be to us in all things a compassionate High Priest. But how would the Scriptures have been fulfilled, had he not also experienced the fate of his living prototypes—Joseph, delivered up by his brethren, and David forsaken in the season of his calamities—or how verified the prophetic language of the Psalmist, “Lover and friend have you put far from me, and my acquaintance into darkness?” At the same time it was to be made manifest, for our consolation, that “he had received gifts even for the rebellious;” and where is this more evident than in the grievous event which we are about to contemplate?

Let us join ourselves in spirit to Simon Peter. If any one was ever ardently attached to the Savior, it was he; but he was only partially conscious of what it was that he loved in Jesus. The mystery in his vicarious character, and the consequent necessity for the offering up of himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, was still concealed from him. He had only a kind of general perception that his salvation in some way depended upon fellowship with Jesus, and that without him he would infallibly perish. In Peter, as in many churches where the Gospel is not preached in all its fullness, faith and love preceded religious knowledge and discernment. More the subject of feeling than of a divinely enlightened understanding, which regulates the whole life, Peter reminds us of that class of our brethren, of whom we are accustomed to say that though they possess the burning heart, yet they are still in want of the light of the Holy Spirit. The new life is implanted in its germ, and the ability to develop itself to the aim of its heavenly calling exists: but the development itself is still far behind, and much remains for the Holy Spirit to enlarge and complete.

The cause of Peter’s ignorance of the chief intention of Christ’s coming into the world, was his deficiency in the knowledge of himself. He knew, indeed, that as a poor sinner, he stood in need of mercy: but he had no idea of the boundless extent of man’s moral depravity and inability. Over this a veil was thrown by the sparkling and deceptive brilliancy of his sentimental state. He felt himself animated by such an ardent love and enthusiasm for Jesus, that the smallest suspicion, in this respect, wounded him deeply. Alas! he did not yet know how much the noblest human feelings depend upon the change of circumstances, situations, and seasons. The declaration of Jeremiah, that “the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” was not obvious to his understanding. He was ignorant that one who could be enthusiastic for Jesus transfigured on Mount Tabor, possessed no pledge, from this feeling, that he would be equally zealous for Jesus ignominiously crucified on Mount Calvary. Just as little did he imagine that what pervaded his mind under the sound of his Master’s affectionate parting address, in the solemn stillness of the midnight hour, by no means necessarily enabled him still to cleave to him when arrested and disgracefully dragged before a judicial tribunal.

We read of Gideon, that the Lord said to him, “Go in this your might;” and to this day, it is only the Lord’s gracious inspiration which produces true heroism. But of this Peter was ignorant. Instead of despairing of all his own courage and leaning solely on the strength of the Lord, he trusted to his own valor, which he lamentably over-estimated; and instead of applying for spiritual weapons to him who said, “Without me, you can do nothing:” the simple disciple, in the armor of his own feeling of affection for his Master, thought himself sufficiently able to cope with Satan and his crafty devices.

Peter was like the man in the Gospel, who went to war without first sitting down and counting the cost. He might have already perceived that he was acting foolishly, when after his rash assault on the servant of the high priest and the Lord’s subsequent resignation of himself to the hands of his enemies, his zeal was instantly extinguished, so that he was cowardly enough to take to a disgraceful flight with the rest. True, he again bethought himself after a time; but that which induced him to follow his captive Lord at a distance, was, in reality, more the spur of a despicable pride, than the noble impulse of a “love strong as death.” He had spoken so openly and loudly of never denying his Master, and even of going to death with him; and what would be thought of him if he were now to break his vows and vanish from the field? No, he was resolved never to be regarded as a coward. Where his Master is, there he must be. Like a vessel steering against the wind, he follows in due distance the march of the armed band. He goes forward with feeble knees and inward reluctance. What would he give if some unavoidable and obvious hindrance were to block up his way and prevent his further advance! In fact, such a wished-for obstacle seems to present itself, in the gates being closed as soon as the band, with their captive, have entered into the court-yard of the high priest’s palace.

Peter would now have felt himself excused, had he gone away, since however willing he might be, he could proceed no further. If we mistake not, he is already preparing to depart; but just as if everything conspired to promote his fall, it happened accidentally, as people say, that before the entrance, he meets with a friend and fellow-believer, who was known to the high priest; and who, being on amicable terms with him, went freely in and out of his house. The latter addresses a few words to the door-keeper, and Peter, whether willingly or unwillingly, is admitted.

We are not informed who the disciple was that procured his admission. If, as many suppose, it was the Evangelist John himself, to whom we owe the mention of this unimportant event, it is pleasing and truly affecting to see him taking, in this statement, part of the blame from his friend Peter, and putting it upon himself. But whoever he may have been, the question still urges itself upon us, why God in his providence did not so order it that Peter should arrive only a few minutes earlier at the gate of the court-yard; since that eventful meeting would have then been avoided, and the whole of the subsequent mischief prevented? The answer is easy.

Although it remains a truth that God tempts no one, much less causes him to stumble and fall: yet he not infrequently visits with severe trials those whom he loves, and even does not prevent their falling, when they do not attend to his word and disbelieve his warnings; thus refusing to be healed of their presumptuous reliance on their own ability in any other way than by bitter experience. Even Peter’s fall, which, as regards its guilt, must be placed solely to his own account, and is fully explained by the self-dependence of the disciple, was intended by God as a medicine for his soul, which aimed at its thorough healing of its foolish and blind self-confidence. The Lord Jesus had already clearly hinted at this, and also at the salutary results of his lamentable fall, when he addressed to Peter the encouraging words, “When you are converted, strengthen your brethren.”

Simon passes with tottering steps over the threshold of the opened gate, and thus sets foot on the scene of his trial. O that he had now cast himself down in prayer before God! But instead of this, he still depends upon himself; and upon the chance of accidents and circumstances. Satan and the world already stand armed against him on the field. He had no need to fear them, if he had only put on the breastplate of faith. We can now do nothing but tremble for the poor man, and should be compelled to give him up for lost, were we not aware of the admirable protection afforded him, but of which he is unconscious. The solemnity with which the Lord, on the way to Gethsemane, foretold what awaited him, hangs in his memory, though silent for a while—like a bell which, at the proper time, will give the signal for his restoration. The cock, the divinely appointed alarmist already stands at his post, and his crowing wail not fail of its due effect. The Savior’s intercession, that Peter’s faith might not fail, hovers, like a protecting shield, over his head; and he who never quenches the smoking flax, nor breaks the bruised reed, continues near the endangered disciple, and in the hour of distress will afford him seasonable aid.

Let us now consider the melancholy event which took place in the court-yard of the high priest. At the moment when Simon is admitted, at the intercession of his friend, the damsel that kept the door, holding up her lantern to his face, regarded him with a look as if she knew him, but is not quite sure of it. Peter, seeing this, turns away his face, and hastens as quickly as possible past the woman, lest she should recognize him. In the center of the court-yard the soldiers had kindled a fire, to protect themselves against the raw, cold, morning air, and, crowding round it, pass the time in talking and joking; while inside the house the proceedings against Jesus are going on.

Peter, who feels uncomfortable enough in such an atmosphere, approaches the noisy group, and with a careless mien, as if only anxious to warm himself, takes his place among them. In fact, his denial had now commenced, for his intention was evidently to appear to the mercenaries as if he belonged to their party, and shared their sentiments with regard to the Nazarene. Not a little pleased at having thus attained a twofold object—the safety of his person, and the being able to say that he had manifested his courage in thus mingling with the adversaries, and fulfilling his promise not to forsake his Master—the pitiable hero sits there and expects that he will be able to witness the future course of events without danger to himself. On a sudden, a painful stop is put to these calculations. The porteress, who wished to assure herself whether or not she had mistaken the stranger whom she had admitted, steals there unobserved, and mingling among the soldiery, discovers, by the light of the flickering flame, the lurking guest; and looking over his shoulder in his face, she asks him, with a triumphant and malicious leer, “Were you not also with Jesus of Nazareth? Are you not one of his disciples?”

Who can describe Peter’s confusion at this question? At the moment when he thought himself so safe, to be so suddenly assailed! However, he recollects himself, and thinks, “What does the woman mean? What right has she to put such a question? It is too much to be obliged to answer every idle inquirer. I would have told Caiaphas, or one of the chief priests, who I am, but who is this busy-body, that I should give an answer to her?” Thinking thus, he replies, with the emphasis of one whose honor is assailed, “Woman, I know him not. I know not what you say.”

Alas! Alas! He who offered to take up the gauntlet for Jesus, even if thrown down by the king of terrors, succumbs at the first idea of danger, suggested by the question of a menial servant! Who does not perceive from his language the tempest of accusing and excusing thoughts which rages within? “I am not; I know him not,” is first uttered with tolerable decision. But then, condemned by conscience, he seeks to bear out this denial in some measure, while passing by the necessity of a direct answer, by adopting another mode of speech, and adding, “I know not what you say. What do you mean? I do not understand you.” But this no longer suffices to expunge the unambiguous words, “I know him not.”

While stammering out this lamentable prevarication, he rises from his seat, under the influence of alarm and inward rebuke, and attempts to retire unobserved from his dangerous position, in which he succeeds without being again attacked. He bends his steps toward the gate, in the hope of finding it open and being able to make his escape. The cock now crows for the first time, but the state of excitement which he is in, does not suffer him, this time, to hear the warning sound, the more so, since the way is unexpectedly blocked up by another maidservant, who, calling to the soldiers who assemble round her, says, in a more definite manner than the former, “This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth!” The mercenaries are gratified by the stripping off of Peter’s disguise, since it affords them the desired materials for additional joke and pastime. “Are you not also one of his disciples?” they ask, in a crude and threatening tone—”You belong also to the sect!”

What is the poor man to do now? After his foot has once slipped, we see him fall into a state of complete vacillation. The way to the second transgression is always rapidly traversed after the commission of the first. Some dark spirit then whispers in our ear that the repetition cannot make us more culpable, since God is accustomed not to number but to weigh our sins; or else, that by persisting in the commission of any particular sin, we only manifest that we do not exactly regard it as sin, and have, therefore, in some measure, sinned ignorantly. Suffice it to say that Peter now denies his Lord again, and this time at least, according to the sound of the words, more boldly than before, “Man,” says he, “I am not,” and then adds an asseveration; no, even so far forgets himself as to speak of his Master in a contemptuous tone while saying, “I know not the man!” They must now be forced to believe him, since no one would speak thus of his friend, if he were not the refuse of faithlessness and falsehood. They do not imagine Peter to be capable of such baseness, and therefore they let him go. O what a disgrace for the disciple, morally to have convinced the troop that he could not be Jesus’ friend, but had sworn fealty to the banner of his adversaries.

Restless and fugitive, like a stricken and chased deer, the unhappy disciple wanders about the remote parts of the courtyard, but to his horror finds every outlet of escape closed against him. For a while he succeeds in withdrawing himself from the view—and further molestation both of the spearmen and domestics; but the danger of his situation takes such possession of his thoughts and senses that we must give up the hope of his taking to heart the extreme point to which the wind of temptation has carried him. He staggers about like one who is no longer master of himself, when, after the lapse of about another hour, a fresh crowd surrounds him, who, after carefully weighing all the circumstances, have at length come to the conclusion that the stranger must certainly belong to the disciples of Jesus. “Surely,” say they, with greater confidence than before, “you are also one of them;” and when he again begins to defend himself, they convict him of falsehood by his own words, and exclaim, “Your speech betrays you; you are a Galilean.” Another soldier, attracted by the noise, looks him full in the face, and adds his confirmation to their assertion, by saying, “Of a truth this fellow also was with him.” Last of all, a servant of the High Priest approaches, a kinsman of him whose ear Peter had cut off at Gethsemane, and says, “Did not I see you in the garden with him?”

Peter now finds himself completely entrapped. How is he to act? Two ways are open to him, either to reveal his disgraceful denials by a candid acknowledgment, and present his bare bosom to his enemies for Jesus’ sake, or else to act his lamentable part completely through, in which case he must carry his barefaced falsehoods to the utmost. In a state bordering on desperation he decides upon the latter. In the confusion of the moment, I know not what he may, half unconsciously, have summoned up to soothe his conscience, at least for a time. Whether he took refuge in the subterfuge that such degraded characters were not worthy of having the name of Jesus confessed before them, which would be like casting pearls before swine, or whether he sought to deceive himself with the idea that he would spare his blood until the desired opportunity arrived of shedding it publicly before all the people in testimony of his faith, who shall decide? Suffice it to say, he is quite the old fisherman, the rough sailor again—no, even much worse than he had ever been before, and heaps oath upon oath, and curse upon curse, to confirm his assertion that he knew not the man.

While calling down upon his head all that is dreadful, and abjuring his salvation, he exclaims, “I am no Christian; I know not the man of whom you speak.” And he gives them this assurance with a gesture and in a tone as if no one under heaven was more despicable in his esteem than “that man,” and as if a more outrageous injury could not have been inflicted upon him than by such a supposition. He is apparently beside himself at the grievous wrong which he is enduring. But the more violently he protests and cries out, the more obvious is his Galilean dialect; and the more this is the case, the more certain at length are the mercenaries that they have not been mistaken in him. The measure of his sin is now full. The soldiers leave him to himself without giving him any further trouble, and turn their back upon him, either out of contempt, as deeming such a renegade unworthy of being stamped as a martyr, or else because, by the opening of the doors of the judgment hall, a new spectacle attracts their attention in a higher degree.

We break off, for the present, with painful feelings. “Is it, then, possible for the children of God to fall so far back into their former state?” Yes, my readers, if, instead of commending themselves, in true humiliation of spirit, to the grace of God, they enter the lists in presumptuous self-confidence, and rush of themselves into danger. In this case, there is no security against their experiencing similar defeats. The new man, in those who are regenerate, does not attain to such an unlimited superiority over the old, as no longer to require, on all occasions, the continuance of divine influence for the overcoming and restraining of the latter. It is true that the former will never yield the field to the flesh for long together, but in due time will again trample it under foot. It may, however, be the case, as it was with Peter, that the old Adam, under the pressure of seductive and darkening influences, may again burst his fetters, and, manifesting his depravity before God and man, may obtain a considerable advantage over the new man. Hence the Lord’s pointed admonition to his disciples to watch and pray lest they fall into temptation. Simon Peter vowed and promised, certainly with the purest intentions, but neglected to watch and pray. What was the consequence? The first blast of temptation miserably overthrew him, and all his vows and promises were scattered to the winds.

“Let him, therefore, that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.”

In the kingdom of God, indeed, a defeat may bring more blessings than a victory; and more costly fruits often spring from stumblings than from the most apparently successful strivings after holiness. But woe unto him whom this truth would render reckless! Such a one would be in danger of being never raised up from his fall by the hand of divine grace. And though he might rise again, yet no one can calculate how far a relapse into sin might affect, at least the present life, by its destructive consequences. Therefore, let us ever bear in mind the apostolic exhortation, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil;” as well as those other words of the same apostle, “Endure hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.”


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