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A SACRED PICTURE

Sometimes the Holy Spirit holds before my sight pictures of divine things, and as I feast the eyes of my enlightened understanding upon them my mind is absorbed, my heart is all aglow, and there are moments when my eyes glisten with tears of sacred blessedness. A few days ago I had considerable pleasure in contemplating Luke 22:61-62. “And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the 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.”

This is one of those pictures that faith can look upon, and ever be finding new and touching beauties. If you will with me take a glance at scenes preceding this, we may be able to see better the excellencies of the Grace of God so strikingly exhibited. Look at the multitude coming with swords and staves to apprehend Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Who is he that springs in the front, and with his sword cuts off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest? It is Peter (John 18:10).

Bold as a lion, he felt he could slay the whole multitude that should dare lay a finger upon the Christ the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16).

Look again. There sits a man warming himself by the fire. A certain maid peers into his face, and says, “This man was also with Him,” and he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I know Him not.” Another recognizes him, and confidently affirmed, “Of a truth this fellow was with him; for He is a Galilean.” Again he denies.

See, there comes in that man whose ear Peter cut off, and saith unto him, “Did not I see thee in the garden with Him?” Perhaps the ear of Malchus tingled somewhat. Perhaps he wanted to pick a quarrel with that man that sits warming himself by the fire. Ah, Peter is not shivering with cold now; he is heated in every way that is evil, and now with cursing and swearing says, “I know not the man.” Who is this fellow cursing and swearing, and denying Jesus? It is Peter. What, the very Peter that cut the man’s ear off in the garden? Hark! there is the sound of the cock crowing!

“And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how lie had said unto him, ‘Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.’ and Peter went out, and wept bitterly.” A few minutes ago we beheld a man lying and cursing and swearing, and now in floods of tears he weeps as though his heart were breaking. Let us take a few glimpses at our picture. “The Lord turned and looked upon Peter.”

Amidst all his humiliations the Son of God is mindful of that sinner who is lying, and cursing, and swearing and denying him. In our carnal thought we would say, Christ Jesus the incarnate Son of God will have nothing more to do with such a man; he will utterly turn from him; and never more will that worthless wretch get the least glimpse of regard from the meek and lowly injured Lamb of God. Jehovah saith, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher that your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The Savior of sinners knows all that is passing around that fire, he knows Peter better than Peter knows himself. Had he not told him a few hours before this scene, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted strengthen thy brethren.” “The Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” David tells us, “He inclined unto me, and heard my cry.” Ah, when the moment comes that the Lord turns unto us, then we are turned unto him. He visits us with the almighty transforming power of his grace, and our hearts are turned and flow unto him as rivers of water. Look at this astonishing language of the Lord toward backsliding Ephraim, “Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.” Jer. 31:20. How often has my sinful heart turned from the Lord?

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love.”

We read, “They have turned their back unto me, and not their face.” Jer. 2:27. Does the Lord then turn his back upon us and cast us off forever? O No! The new covenant relationship subsists between Christ and the Church, between Christ and Peter. Once, twice, thrice, thou hast denied Jesus, O Peter! This is the foretold, the decreed limit. Enough; no further shalt thou go; thine iniquity shall be checked; the flood of thy sinfulness restrained. Thou hast been in Satan’s sieve long enough. All thy bravery in the garden has vanished. At the voice of a maiden thy courage has left thee. Thou art a poor, weak, sinful man. Thou hast a heart deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and thou shalt know it. “The Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” Not a word he spoke, but, O, the language that was in that look! What was in that look? Can you tell? I have tried, I have longed to read all the language that was in that look. But there is no end to it; volumes of speech cannot tell it all. Can you tell how Peter looked? Can you describe the emotions that agitated the breast of Peter the moment their eyes met? The loving, compassionate, grieved, forgiving eyes of the Lord, the man of sorrows, and the eyes of that poor wretch, poor vile weak backsliding Peter. It passeth telling! Indescribable!

What was in that look of the Lord? Was it a look of loathing, of anger, of vengeance, to drive the poor sinner from his presence, into the blackness of despair forever? Did it say, “Depart from me, ye cursed into everlasting fire?” Long time ago at the Red Sea, “In the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of cloud and troubled the host of the Egyptians.” It was another look than this; it was a piercing look; it searched Peter through and through; his heart was naked before the gaze of the Holy One.

“All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13; Prov. 15:11).

“One glance of thine, eternal God,
Pierces all nature through;
Nor heaven nor earth nor hell afford
A shelter from thy view.”

That piercing look of Jesus penetrated down into the lowest hell where Satan had Peter in his sieve. It pierced through all opposition, all the malice of Satan, all the vile, dense sinfulness of Peter.

Hell could not hid him, sin could not shut out that look; what could obstruct the look of the Redeemer? O beloved saints, I have been in some low down, dark places, and in my infirmity I have said, “I am cast out of thy sight.” I have feared the Lord would never look upon me again. But better than all my fears the Lord has been to me.

Once Jerusalem was in a low and perishing state. No eye pitied thee, O Jerusalem. But thy God appeared; he looked upon thee in his love and pity, and redeemed thee. In the record it is written, “When I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood Live. I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou are come to excellent ornaments: thy breast are fashioned, and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare. Now’ when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine” (Ezek. 16:6-8). That look that Jesus gave Peter was the look of tenderness, of eternal, unquenchable love, so powerful, subduing, conquering and heart warming. One look of thine Emmanuel, dear Savior, can heal in a moment our backslidings, one glance of thine can curb and quell our headstrong, vile passions. Our murmurings are hushed, our hearts are brought low and melted before our God.

“Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart:
Dissolved by thy goodness, I fall to the ground,
And weep to the praise of the mercy I’ve found.”

That look of eternal love from Jesus said, “I love thee still.” It was a look of such surpassing compassion, of such tender pity, it revived such memories that Peter might exclaim in the language of the heavenly Solomon, “Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me” (Solomon’s Song 6:5). Jesus’ eyes were as a flame of fire (Rev. 1:14). With flames of unutterable, quenchless love (Song 8:7) he looked upon Peter. John Newton tells us a sacred story, saying:

“In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
‘Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my mad career.

I saw one hanging on a tree,
In agonies, in blood:
He fixed his languid eyes on me,
As near the cross I stood.

Sure never till my latest breath
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with his death
Though not a word he spoke.

A second look he gave, and said
I freely all forgive,
This blood is for thy ransom paid:
I die that thou mayest live.”

Let us look at our picture again: “And Peter remembered the words 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”.

Peter now thinks upon what Jesus had told him that very night. When it was told him he could not believe it was possible that he should act so base a part. Then he was all on fire with love and loyalty to the Christ, and willing to devote himself even unto death in behalf of his Lord and Master. “He spake the more vehemently, if I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in anyway, Likewise also said they all.” He meant every word he said, but his own frailties he did not fully know.

I have in times past thought I never would or could do such and such things, but in some measure I have learned that I am so vile and so weak I know that unless under the sun but I might fall into. As the clueless I am kept by omnipotent grace there is no wickedness under the sun but I might fall into. As the depravity of my heart that has been discovered to me, however I have trembled; and in my fears, and out of the anguish of my heart, I have cried unto the Lord to have mercy upon me, Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil. Jabez cried unto the Lord, “O that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me” (I Chron. 4:10).

“Peter remembered the word of the Lord.” Jonah says, “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord,” and in the Psalms it is written, “I remembered the Lord, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed.” “Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her pleasant things that she had in the days of old.”

O! that look of the Savior has stirred up such remembrances. Beneath that look Peter’s hard heart is dissolved and broken. Peter went out; that look was more than he could endure. Did he ever forget that look? Away from the fire, outside the palace of the high priest, out in the darkness of the chilly night, behold a man with streaming eyes sobbing forth his bitter grief.

Oh, sin is a bitter thing to those who are born again! “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it” (Jer. 30:7).

We might for a long while look upon the sight of weeping Peter. He wept over his base conduct; he grieved over his sins; he was in bitterness over the dear suffering Savior who was mocked, spit upon, crowned with thorns. “He turned and looked upon Peter.” O how Peter mourned! Do we not love him? Can we not take to our bosom that heart-stricken, contrite, weeping man? O yes! These are only glimpses that we have had of Luke 22:61-62.

Well, dear children of God, I have sketched but a few glimpses. You may look and look and look again, and the more you look and ponder, the more your heart will wonder over the surpassing, surprising grace that shines forth in our blessed Jesus’ face.

FREDERICK W. KEENE, 1924

The Lone Pilgrim,
Pages 11 thru 15, and 18 thru 19