"They that stood by ... said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them? Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, "I know not the Man" (Matthew xxvi. 73, 74).
"Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jones, lovest thou Me more thou these? He saith unto Him, yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? He saith unto him, yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, lovest thou Me? And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep" (John xxi. 15-17).
Peter vowed before his comrades that he would die with Jesus rather than deny Him. In a few hours the opportunity of doing so presented itself but Peter's heart failed him. He forgot his vow and threw away for ever this unparalleled chance of proving his love for the Saviour.
When the cock crew, and Jesus turned and looked at him, Peter remembered his broken vow, and went out and wept bitterly. The tenderest sorrow for the way he had treated Jesus must have mingled with the fiercest regret for the lost chance, to bring those bitter tears. Oh, how his love must have reproached him, his conscience stung him, and the devil taunted him! I doubt not he was tempted to give up all hope, and say to himself: "It is of no use for me to try to be a Christian; I have made a miserable failure, and I will not try any longer." And over and over again, by day and by night, in the company of others and when by himself, Peter must have been reminded by the devil of his lost chance, and told it was no use for him to try any longer to be a Christian. And I imagine Peter sighed within himself, and would have given the world to have that chance come back once more. But it was gone, and gone for ever!
Peter did love Jesus, however, and while he had lost that chance, Jesus gave him another. A very simple, everyday, matter-of-fact chance it was, nothing like the startling, splendid one of dying with the Son of God on the cross, but probably of far more value to the world and the cause of Christ. All over the country where Jesus had been there were, doubtless, many who believed with a trembling faith in Him. They needed to be faithfully fed with the truths about Jesus, and with those which He had taught. So Jesus called Peter to Him, and asked him three times the searching question: "Lovest thou Me?" It must have most painfully recalled to Peter's mind the three times he had denied Jesus. And in reply to Peter's positive assertion that he did love Him, Jesus three times commanded him to feed His lambs and sheep. And then Jesus assured him that at last he should die on a cross -- as he probably would have died had he not denied his Lord.
I suspect there are many Peters among the disciples of Jesus today; many in our own ranks, who, somewhere in the past, since they began to follow Jesus, vowed they would do the thing He by His Spirit through their conscience asked them to do; vowed they would die for Him, and meant it, too; who, when the testing time came, forgot their vows, denied Jesus by word or act, and practically left Him to be crucified afresh and alone.
I remember such a time in my own experience years ago, before I joined The Salvation Army, but after I was sanctified. It was not a sin of commission, but one of omission -- a failure to do what I felt the Lord would have me do. It was an unusual thing, but not an unreasonable one. The suggestion to act came suddenly, and it seemed to me that all Heaven bent over me to bless me, if I obeyed; and Hell yawned to swallow me, if I did not. I did not say I would not, but it seemed to me I simply could not, and I did not. Oh, how I was humbled, and how I wept bitter tears, and begged forgiveness, and promised God I would be true! I felt God had given me a chance that I had let slip by, and that would never, never come again, and that I never could be the mighty man of faith and obedience that I might have been had I been true. Then I promised God that I would do that very same thing, and I did it again and again, but no real blessing came to me, and so Satan took advantage of me and taunted me and accused me through my conscience till life became an intolerable burden to me; and at last I felt I had grieved the Holy Spirit for ever and that I was lost, and so I threw away my shield of faith, cast away my confidence in the love of Jesus for me, and for twenty-eight days suffered, it seemed to me, the pains of Hell. I still prayed, but the heavens were like brass to me. I read my Bible, but the promises fled away from me, while the commandments and threatenings were like flames of fire and two-edged swords to my quivering conscience. When it was night I longed for day; when it was day I longed for night.
I went to meetings, but no blessing came to me. The curse of God seemed to follow me, and yet through it all I saw that God is love.
Satan tempted me to commit sin, to curse God and die, as Job's wife bade him; but God's mercy and grace followed me, and enabled me to say "No," and to tell the devil that I would not sin, and that though I went to Hell, I would go there loving Jesus and seeking to get others to trust and obey Him, and that in Hell I would declare that the Blood of Jesus could cleanse from all sin. I thought I was doomed. Those terrible passages of Scripture in Hebrews vi. and x. seemed just to fit my case, and I said: "I have lost my chance for ever." But God's love is
Higher than the highest heaven,
Deeper than the deepest sea.
In twenty-eight days He drew me up out of that horrible pit and that miry clay with these words: "Hold it for certain that all such thoughts as create disquiet proceed not from God, who is the Prince of Peace, but proceed either from the devil, or from self-love, or from the good opinion we hold of ourselves."
Quick as thought I saw it. God is the Prince of Peace. "His thoughts are thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give us an expected end." I saw I had no self-love, nor good opinion of myself, and longed to be for ever rid of myself. Then I saw that the devil was deceiving me, and instantly it was as though a devil-fish loosened his long arms from about my spirit and fled away, leaving me free.
The next Saturday and Sunday I saw about fifty souls at the Penitent-form for salvation and holiness, and from that hour God has blessed me and given me souls everywhere. He has asked me, through those words He spoke to Peter, "Lovest thou Me?" and when, out of the fullness of my clean heart -- emptied of self, and made clean through His precious Blood -- I have said, "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee," He has tenderly bidden me feed His lambs and sheep; that is, to live the Gospel so fully in my life, and preach it so fully in my words, that His people should be blessed and comforted, and encouraged to love and serve and trust Him with all their hearts.
This is my other chance; and it is yours, whoever you are who have denied Him in the past.
Do not seek to do some great thing, but feed the lambs and sheep of God, and pray and work for the salvation of all men. Study your Bible, pray, talk often and much with God, and ask Him so to teach you that, whenever you open your mouth, you may say something that will bless somebody -- something that will encourage a discouraged brother, strengthen a weak one, instruct an ignorant one, comfort a feeble-minded one, warn an erring one, enlighten a darkened one, and rebuke a sinning one.
Notice: Peter was not only to feed the lambs, but also the sheep. We must seek to get sinners saved, and after they are saved, after they are "born again," we must feed them. We must feed the young converts on those promises and instructions in God's Word that will lead them into entire sanctification. We must show them that this is God's will for them, and that Jesus has opened a way for them into "the most holy place" (Heb. x.). We must warn them not to turn back into Egypt, not to be afraid of the giants in the promised land, nor to make any unholy alliance with the Ammonites in the wilderness. They are to come out and be separate. They are to be holy. This is their high and happy privilege and their solemn duty, since they have been redeemed, not with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious Blood of Christ. They are not to faint when chastened and corrected by the Lord, nor grow weary in well-doing. They are to watch and pray, and give thanks, and rejoice always. And they are not to get the blessing of a clean heart by hard work, and just in the hour of death, but by simple faith in Jesus just now.
We must feed the sheep, the sanctified ones, on the strong meat of the Gospel. Feed a strong man on white bread and tea, and he will soon be unfit for work. But give him good brown bread, butter and milk, and suitable fruits and vegetables, and the harder he works, other things being equal, the better he is in health and strength. Just so with Christians. Feed them on the chaff of stale jokes, and old, last-year's Bible-readings that have lost their power on your own heart, and you will starve the sheep. But feed them on the deep things of God's Word, which reveal His everlasting love, His faithfulness, His saving power, His tender, minute care, His shining holiness, His exact justice, His hatred of sin, His pity for the sinner, His sympathy for the weak and erring, His eternal judgments upon the finally impenitent and ungodly, and His never-ending glory and blessedness bestowed upon the righteous, and you will make them so strong that "one shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight."
Know Jesus, and you will be able to feed His lambs and sheep. You feed them by revealing Him to them as He is revealed by the Father through the Spirit in the Bible.
Walk with Him. Talk with Him. Search the Bible on your knees, asking Him to open your understanding as He did that of the disciples on the way to Emmaus, teaching you what the scriptures say of Him, and you will have another chance of showing your love for Him and of blessing your fellow-men that the angels might well covet.
A wide knowledge of history tends to sanity, to sobriety, and correctness of judgment of men and events, if we have seen God in history. We need such knowledge to give us perspective, to steady us, to save us from sharp judgments, to insure us against cocksureness on one hand and despair on the other. Without this wide, long view, we are like a tiny boat on a tempestuous sea, tossed like a ship on the waves, but with it we are more like a great ship that rides serenely over the billows.
To the casual observer the experience of the race seems tidal, always flowing and ebbing like the tides of the sea; or forever moving in a circle, getting nowhere, evermore coming back from whence it started, like the rivers rising out of and returning to the sea. The One far-off divine event, To which the whole creation moves, and the slow but sure workings of Providence and the unfailing purpose and process of the Divine government are hidden from him.
When I was a child on the wide, bare, unprotected prairies of the Middle West, black clouds and fierce thunderstorms filled me with anxious fears and vague terror, but as I grew to manhood I saw them as a part of a vast and ordered whole, and they lost their power to create panic in me.
Once, when sick and prostrated in health, I was thrown into a state of mental and spiritual anxiety, amounting almost to torture, by the nation-wide excitement over a great prize-fight. I felt our American civilization was only veneered barbarism, and for a time it seemed to me that we were reverting to, and were to be swallowed up by, brutal, sensuous paganism; then, on my knees praying, I remembered the days when a thousand gladiators fought each other to the death in the Coliseum, or battled and struggled with and were devoured by wild beasts to make a Roman holiday, while the mobs of the city by the hundred thousand, headed by the Emperor, Senators, philosophers, noble ladies, and all the elite gloated over the cruel, bloody scene. Then in deep reverence and gratitude and glad trust I gave God thanks, as I saw how far He had led us on and was still leading, from those ghastly pleasures, those merciless days.
When I was a child the Civil War was raging; soldiers marched and counter-marched through our peaceful little valley and village; armies stormed and thundered across the land; proud cities were besieged and starved and fell before conquering hosts; fathers, brothers, sons were perishing in bloody combat, in fetid swamps and prison camps; homes were vanishing; funeral bells were ever tolling, tolling; mothers, sisters, wives, and orphans were ever weeping, weeping; the foundations of the social order seemed to be crumbling, and men turned their thoughts to the apocalyptic portions of Scripture and tried to interpret the times by their symbolisms, and turned their eyes to the clouds in expectation of the Saviour's bodily appearing, longing for Him to come and work out the Salvation which man himself, abasing his pride and yielding to the lordship of Jesus, under the leadership of the sanctifying Spirit, must work out for himself and his, or perish. It was years before the light of history enabled me to escape this bald interpretation of apocalyptic symbols and walk in quietness and peace and close attention to daily duty, while a world quaked and trembled in unparalleled hurricanes of war, assured that 'the heavens do rule,' and 'a Watcher and a Holy One ' in the heavens was interested in our perplexity and sore travail, and would guide us through the storm and tempest, purified and chastened, to a haven of peace.
History is repeating itself in spirit among us, and a society, a very militant society, for the propagation of Atheism has recently received letters of incorporation from the legislators of New York, and also an anti-Bible Society has been incorporated. And for its first year's budget it is asking for $83,000, and offering life membership for $1,000. Its avowed object 'is to discredit the Bible,' to 'make known its human origin, evolutionary formation, and its discreditable history; expose its immoral and barbaric contents; and lay bare its anti-scientific, anti-liberal, and irrational teachings.' Such is its program. It proposes to show that 'the Bible is the work of man.' 'The falsification by deliberate mistranslation is the sole basis of orthodoxy.' 'The inhuman character of the Bible -- God shall be offered in evidence against the Book.' 'The Bible patriarchs shall be shown to be a set of unmatched moral monsters.' 'The spirit of injustice and intolerance dominate the Bible.' 'The Sermon on the Mount consists mainly of romantic sentimentalism unrelated to reality.' The Bible is inimical to civilization. It must and shall be discredited.' 'The American anti-Bible Society has no religious tests for membership, except disbelief in the Bible as divinely inspired.' Help us free America from Bible-bondage.'
These are some tid-bits from its bulletin or manifesto. The Society for the Propagation of Atheism has already enlisted many young people and students, and societies of 'damned souls,' as they dub themselves, are flourishing in many of our schools and colleges. It is all a part of a nationwide, world-wide movement, awash of wide, sweeping waves of Atheism gushing forth from the heart of the Russian Revolution, something that The Army and all lovers of our Lord and of the Bible will have to face and possibly come into close and desperate grips with in the near future.
If these gentlemen were better acquainted with history, they might not be so cocksure of discrediting the Bible and banishing God from His throne. If we are acquainted with history we shall not be uncertain as to the final issue, but neither will we sit down in a fool's paradise and think we can drive back the waves of mocking, irresponsible, desperate unbelief by witty retort, by smart rejoinder, or by learned and masterly debate.
How shall we reply to their denial of the Divine elements of the Bible? How shall we prove it to be God-inspired? Is it a subject of proof or of faith? How can I be sure of it for myself, and how can I prove it to others? Paul says, 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,' but that is an assertion, not a proof. It still has to be proved, if it can be.
I had studied the various arguments for the inspiration of the Bible by theologians, and since I had from my infancy up accepted the Bible as God's Book, they confirmed my unquestioning faith. But there came a time when I needed more than learned arguments to prove it to me. And not until God Himself came to my help was I wholly, invincibly convinced.
That which finally established my faith in the divinity of the Bible was opened eyes, an inner illumination of my own soul, which enabled me to behold wondrous things all through its sacred pages. 'Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law,' prayed the Psalmist. The Book is largely sealed to men with unanointed eyes and self-satisfied, or world-satisfied, hearts, and from men who turn from the paths of rectitude and 'stumble at the word, being disobedient.'
The pastor of the church of Laodicea became lukewarm as a result of getting rich and increasing in goods until he felt he had need of nothing; but knew not that he was 'wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.'
'I counsel thee,' said Jesus, 'to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see (Revelation iii. 5-18). The Book was sealed to him, and the revelations of the Lord were hidden from him, because of the self-imposed blindness or dimness of his spiritual eyes.
The final blessing that Jesus gave His disciples just before He ascended from them was the blessing of this inner illumination of opened eyes. 'Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures' (Luke xxiv. 45).
The sun does not need learned astronomical treatises to prove its existence, nor a candle of man's making to enable it to be seen. All it needs is that men should have eyes to see. It is its own evidence. So the Bible carries in itself its evidences of inspiration. 'I know the Bible is inspired,' said a great soul-winner, 'because it inspires me.' What the sun is in the world of material things, that the Bible is in the world of spiritual things. It is a lamp to the feet, a light unto the path of men whose spiritual eyes are open, and who will resolutely follow where it leads. Let us notice some of the assertions of the Book and find if they can be proved, not by argument but by life, by experience, for the Bible is but a venerable and curious bit of ancient literature to be read for pleasure or to gratify curiosity, if it does not answer to the deep needs of life, the hunger of the soul, the fears, the hopes, the aspirations, the questionings of the spirit in man.
'Man shall not live by bread alone,' said Jesus, 'but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.' Does the Bible feed the soul of man? All the saints and soldiers of Jesus of all the ages have been nourished and have lived on the Word of God.
'I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food,' said Job. 'How sweet are Thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth,' wrote the Psalmist. 'More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.' Thy words were found, and I did eat them,' said Jeremiah. 'And Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.'
Does the Bible help men to live finer, cleaner, saintly lives? It certainly does. The man who receives the word of God into his heart will stop sinning. 'Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee,' wrote the Psalmist. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy word.' 'Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.'
Does the Bible offer hope to the sinner? The man who has wasted his life, scorned the voice of conscience, turned his back on light and goodness and God? It is the only Book in the world that does. It, and it alone, tells of a redeeming God, a Saviour from sin, a loving Heavenly Father who waits to welcome sinners.
'God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.' 'This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.' 'If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.' Ten thousand times ten thousand sinners saved by faith in the Saviour revealed in the Bible will testify to the truth of those words.
Does the Bible offer succor to tempted men and women? Does it comprehend our need? It does as no other book in the world does. It reveals an elder Brother who enters into the fellowship of our temptations. 'For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted ' (Hebrews ii. 18). 'For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin ' (Hebrews iv. 15.) 'God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it' (1 Corinthians x. 13).
Does the Bible have any word for the toilers and burdened people of earth, the perplexed, the careworn? It does, sweet words of comprehension and assurance such as can nowhere else be found: 'Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.'
Has the Bible any word for the persecuted, the maligned, the oppressed? Listen: 'Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for their's is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in Heaven.' 'From Heaven did the Lord behold the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death.'
Has the Bible any word for those who are sore afflicted? 'He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid His face from him; but when he cried unto Him, He heard.' 'If we suffer we shall also reign with Him.' 'For our light affliction worketh for us,' worketh what? 'worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory: while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. Hallelujah!
'For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.'
Has the Bible a word for those whose eyes are dim with tears? 'God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.'
For those who are in pain? 'Neither shall there be any more pain.'
Has it any word about the far future? 'Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.' 'It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.' 'And God shall wipe away all tears . . . and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying.'
1. How can I prove the inspiration of the Bible? By the way it answers to the heart of man. The key that fits an intricate lock was evidently made for that lock. The Bible meets me at every point of my moral and spiritual need; it fits my heart's intricate needs as the key fits the lock, and I doubt not, I exult to know that the Divine Hand that fashioned me gives me the Book, and His heart that loves me pours itself with fathomless comforts into my heart through the Book; but I cannot prove to you the divinity of the Book any more than I can prove to you that the sun is shining, that honey is sweet, that the song of the bird is melodious.
The inspiration of the Bible is proved by experience, not by logic. 'Meditate therein day and night' to obey, 'to do according to all that is 'written therein,' and you shall know, you shall taste its sweetness, behold its wonders, and hear in its words the whisperings of the everlasting Father to the heart of His child.
2. How shall I prove to others, to those who question, who doubt, who deny, that the Bible is a God-given, God-inspired Book? Shall I go to history, science, archaeology for proof? Yes, at the proper time and to the right people. But the most convincing proof of the inspiration of the Bible that I can offer to an unbeliever is a redeemed life, lived in the power and sweetness of the Spirit; a life that matches the Bible; a life of love, of prayer and faith and devotion; a life of joy and peace and patience and sweet goodwill to all men; a life full of good works matching a glad testimony to the saving, sanctifying, keeping power and ever living presence of the Lord Jesus; a life like that of a Convert from Heathenism, whose heathen neighbors said of him 'There is no difference between him and the Book.' He was a living Bible known and read of them all, and they saw and felt in him inspiration. He was inbreathed, indwelt of God, and through him they recognized inspiration in the Book.
Redeemed lives, drawing light and strength and inspiration from and matching the inspired Book are the unanswerable proofs of its inspiration.
Sir Wilfred Grenfell, of Labrador, tells us that when a student in the University in England he lived with a professor who was a lecturer on the evidences of Christianity. This lecturer was in frequent controversy with infidels, but never converted one of them. They would meet in public debate, each supported by his friends and followers, who were confirmed in their opinions, but there was no changing of sides, no converts were made. It was heady, a rivalry of wits, a struggle for mastery, an intellectual fisticuffs to no profit. But one day one of the most doughty of these infidel debaters was stricken with fatal illness. His friends had no words of comfort, and left him to himself. Then a sweet, humble sister-Salvationist stepped in and nursed the dying man. She could not and she did not argue with him, but she revealed to him a redeemed, Christlike life. Love was in her face, tenderness was in her touch, grace was on her lips, peace and joy in Jesus radiated from her, and lo! what encyclopedic knowledge which puffeth up, and vast learning and brilliant argument and eloquent speech had failed to do, a humble, inspired life did do. He was converted and died in the faith.
An infidel challenged a man of God to debate about religion. 'I accept your challenge on this condition,' replied the man of God, 'that I bring one hundred men with me to testify what faith in Christ has done for them, and you bring one hundred men to testify what atheism has done for them.' The challenger was nonplussed, withdrew the challenge, and there was no debate.
Meek and lowly, but glad and bold witnesses, who witness by lip and life and shining look, are the strongest, the unanswerable proof of the inspiration of the Book by which they live. The final proof will be given when the risen Jesus appears with crowns and thrones and kingdoms, honour, glory, and immortality for those who have believed and loved and followed Him to the end, and opens the dark gates of doom and banishes into 'indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish every soul of man that doeth evil.'