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MATT. XXVI. 35.
PITER SAID UNTO HIM, THOUGH I SHOULD DIE WITH THEE, YET WILL I NOT DEXT
LUKE XXII. 61. 62.
AND THE LORD TURNED, AND LOOKED UPON PETER. AND PETER REMEMBERED THX
WORD OF THE LORD, HOW HE HAD SAID UNTO HIM, BEFORE THE COCK CROW, THOU SHALT DENY ME THRICE. AND PETER WENT OUT, AND WEPT BITTERLY.
We have often called your attention to the internal evidences of truth, which the gospel history presents to a careful reader of the New Testament; and have often remarked, that proofs of this kind multiply prodigiously, the more the gospels are studied. To this class of proofs belong the characters, which are occasionally introduced in the evangelical narrative, and which, every one must acknowledge, are, in general, delineated with great distinctness and consistency. They all have their distinguishing traits, such as we find in real life, and so natural are they, that we reject, at once, the suspicion, that John, Peter, Thomas, Mary, or Paul, for example, are either fictitious, or studied portraits. In the number of the twelve, each apostle has his peculiarities. One is bold and precipitate ; another, gentle and affectionate; a third, doubtful and hard to be persuaded ; and the best of them occupies a grade of excellence, which leaves him at an infinite distance below his Lord. If the gospel history had been a fabrication of some ingenious or fanatical impostor, instead of this distinctness and variety, I think, we should have found a tame uniformity of characters. The disciples would all have been fashioned on the model of their master; and the delineation of Jesus himself, supposing it to have been the work of imagination, would have presented none of those solemn and undescribable tints of supernatural originality, which now make the character of the Saviour of the world such as it is; such, in fact, as no mortal fancy had, or could have conceived; and such, too, as no being of merely mortal race would have been able, or dar. ing enough to appropriate.
Among the characters in the New Testament, that of Peter is transmitted to us with singular force and individuality. Not that his character is drawn, for there is not an instance in the gospels of what may be called character painting. What we know of the apostles, we know, as it were, by accident. In the New Testament, there is no circumstantial narration of an individual's life : but all that is said of him is incidental, and unpremeditated, as well as short, and hastily set down. Of Peter, however, the first of the apostles, perhaps in age, certainly in calling and office, more facts happen to be recorded, than of any other in the company of the disciples. He appears to have been a favourite with our Saviour; and, though not perhaps so amiable as John, of a cast of mind more characteristic and decisive. If we collect the scattered notices of this apostle, and attempt to combine them in a regular outline, we shall find a character arising out of them, which, from its truth
and nature, must have belonged to a real personage; a character, bold, impetuous, sensible, consistent in its contradictions, uniform in its variations; a character, such as the great drama of human life acknowledges, and often reproduces on the stage of human action.
Now, my hearers, when we consider, that four independent historians have recorded circumstances in the life of Peter ; historians, who, from the occasional discordancies in their narratives, could not have written in concert,—that they have recorded, also, different facts, and, if we include the Acts, have written different portions of Peter's life,—that Paul, too, has left us, in his letters, indirect and occasional notices of the same apostle,—and that all these different traits, if combined, make up an original, interesting, natural, harmonious, and well-marked character, is not the conclusion irresistible, that the original existed, or that they all copied from nature, and probably from personal observation ?
Recollect, now, I pray you, that, if one only of the characters of the apostles be supposed to be real, the gospel history must be true. The facts are so intimately blended, the characters so mutually dependent, that the whole story of Jesus and his immediate disciples must exist together; nay, the character of a single apostle is not to be accounted for, but on the supposition of the truth of the principal facts in the evangelical history; and thus, from the character of a single apostle, we come to that most grand and glorious conclusion, the divine original of the gospel of Christ.
In the following discourses, we propose to give you,
1. An outline of the character of Peter, as far as it may be collected from the circumstances mentioned in the evangelical histories;
2. And then to make some reflections in confirmation of the truth of the gospel, and in aid of our christian steadfastness.
The character of Peter is no uncommon union of qualities. In his constitution there was nothing phlegmatic, nothing cold. He was sanguine in his projects, rash in his movements, tender in his attachments, exposed to change from the very impetuosity of his feelings; with more of courage, than of fortitude; more of zeal, than of firmness; more of confidence, than of constancy.
That fact in Peter's history, which has given him such a pre-eminence in the estimation of christians, and has elevated him, in the opinions of a large division of the christian world to a seat second only to that of Jesus Christ, and secured to him an everlasting primacy in the church, was that magnanimous acknowledgment, which he first made of the character of his master : Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. It was at a time, when, as you well know, the Jews were full of expectation, that the great deliverer was to appear in the family of David, who should raise his standard of revolt, assume the almost forgotten ensigns of hereditary royalty, place himself at the head of his oppressed and impatient nation, confirm his authority by visible and splendid prodigies, maintain his cause by supernatural achievements, establish his court in the capital of Judea, and erect an universal and everlasting dominion.—In this state of things, when every Jewish mother was longing to give birth to the Messiah, and every Jewish breast beating high with hopes of future greatness, Jesus appears, a perfect contrast to such worldly and ambitious fancies, the poor son of a carpenter's wife, wandering from village to village, without a place to lay his head, simple in appearance, spiritual in his conversation, meek and lowly in his views, and daily disgusting his gross and self
ish followers by his recommendations of poverty, and predictions of approaching calamity. The disciples were, beyond measure, perplexed. They saw Jesus daily performing the most astonishing and beneficent miracles, which convinced them, that God was with him ; but their preconceptions of the Messiah's character were such, as refused to be reconciled with his present situation and prospects. Now, in this crisis of distressing uncertainty among the disciples, for they had left all and followed Jesus-when others were deserting him in great numbers, dissatisfied and disappointed, and Jesus says to his disciples, Will ye also go away? Peter, with his usual forwardness, answers for them all : Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And, soon after, when Jesus explicitly asks them, Whom say ye that I am ? Peter alone replies, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus exclaims, Blessed att thou, Simon; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my father who is in heaven : that is, you derive this from a higher and better source than the world's opinion. Then our Saviour pronounces that memorable promise: Upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it ; and Peter's confession was not unworthy of such a promise. It was a brave confession ; a sentiment of his heart, as well as a dietate of his understanding. It was the united result of Peter's personal attachment to Jesus, and his knowledge of his miracles and character.
The most characteristic trait of Peter's mind is, undoubtedly, that impetuosity, and ardour of feeling, which rendered him sometimes too confident, rash, and intemperate, but commonly bold, decisive, and affectionate. Observe, now, I entreat you, how clearly this distinctive feature of his character is presented to us by all the evangelists, and even preserved