Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
~ Psalm 51:4
That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord GOD. ~ Ezekiel 16:63
Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice. ~ John 13:38
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.
~ Luke 22:61
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
~ Luke 15:21
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: ~ Acts 17:30
A Look from Christ, by Octavius Winslow. This is from his work, “Midnight Harmonies”.
And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter.
~ Luke 22:61 a,b
And who can fully interpret that look? Painters have often attempted to portray it, but the pencil has fallen despairingly from their hands. The Saviour was now standing face to face with Caiaphas—infinite purity confronting sin, infinite truth confounding error. It was to him a solemn and a critical moment. Pleading for his life, all his thoughts, and sympathies, and moments might be supposed to concentrate wholly upon himself. But no! he heard a voice behind him, the tones of which were familiar, though startling, to his ear. It was a voice to which he had often listened, as the ear listens to sweet sounds; but dear and familiar as it was, it uttered words of appalling import. It was the voice of a loved disciple, a sworn friend, who, but a few hours before, had vowed, with all the solemnity and emphasis of an oath, attachment and fidelity unto death. And what was its affirmation? “I know not the man!” His attention diverted from the trial, and his eye, withdrawn from his accusers, the “Lord turned, and looked upon Peter.” All thought and emotion seemed now to gather around one object,—the Christ-denying disciple. His own personal case, now fraught with the deepest interest and peril; the tremendous responsibility which he at that moment sustained; standing on the eve of accomplishing the eternal purpose of his Father in the redemption of his church; the woe through which he was about to pass lowering and darkening around him; yet all seemed for the moment to tremble in the balance, before the case of a now fallen apostle. “And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” Peter met the glance. Not a word was uttered, not a syllable was breathed, not a finger was lifted by the Saviour; it was but a look, and yet it was such a look as pierced the heart of the sinning apostle. “Peter went out and wept bitterly.” Let us attempt its interpretation. The eye of Jesus is still upon us; it has often reproved us in our waywardness and folly; it has often cheered us in our loneliness and sorrow; and it may often chide and gladden us again. What is its language?
It was a look of injured love. Christ loved Peter; he loved him with an everlasting love. When he allured him from his lowly calling, summoned him to be a disciple, and ordained him to be an apostle, and “a fisher of men,” he loved him. Yes; and he loved him, too, at that moment. He was about to die—to die for Peter. He knew how false and treacherous he would prove; how, at a most critical period of his life, and amidst circumstances the most painful, he would deny that he knew him, confirming the disownment with an oath and a curse; yet he loved Peter, loved him with an affection that never faltered or cooled,—no, not even at the moment when the denial and the imprecation rose, fiend-like, from his lips. What, then, was the language of that look which Christ now bent upon Peter? It seemed to say, “I am about to die for, thee, Peter, and canst thou now deny me? What have I done, or what have I said, worthy of such requital?” And what, my reader, are all our backslidings, and falls, and unkind returns, but so many unjust injuries done to the deep, deathless love of Jesus? How do we forget, at the moment of excited feeling, that every step we take in departure from God, each temptation to which we yield assent, and each sin we voluntarily commit, is in the face of love inconceivably great, and unutterably tender. Injured love! how reproving its glance! “I have died for thee,” Jesus says; “for thee I poured out my heart’s blood; and canst thou, in view of love like mine, thus grieve, and wound, and deny me?”
It was a look of painful remembrance. “And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord.” His Lord’s solemn prediction of his sin he seemed quite to have forgotten. But when that look met his eye, it summoned back to memory the faded recollections of the faithful and tender admonitions that had forewarned him of his fall. There is a tendency in our fallen minds to forget our sinful departures from God. David’s threefold backsliding seemed to have been lost in deep oblivion, until the Lord sent his prophet to recall it to his memory. Christ will bring our forgotten departures to view, not to upbraid or to condemn, but to humble us, and to bring us afresh to the blood of sprinkling. The heart-searching look from Christ turns over each leaf in the book of memory; and sins and follies, inconsistencies and departures, there inscribed, but long forgotten, are read and re-read, to the deep sin-loathing and self-abasement of our souls. Ah! let a look of forgiving love penetrate thy soul, illumining memory’s dark cell, and how many things, and circumstances, and steps in thy past life wilt thou recollect to thy deepest humiliation before God. And O! how much do we need thus to be reminded of our admonitions, our warnings, and our falls, that we may in all our future spirit and conduct “walk humbly with God.” The season of solitude and sorrow, suffering reader, is peculiarly favourable for this. It is a time of recollection. The past is recalled, the life is reviewed, principles, motives, and actions are examined, scrutinised, and weighed, and “the result, if the process is fairly and honestly” gone into, will be, “Lord! I do remember this day my sin and folly; pardon it, for thy name’s sake, and do thou remember it no more forever!”
It was a look of gentle reproof. It seemed to convey that reproof in language like this:—“I am now bearing thy sin and curse; I am about to drink the cup of woe for thee; to take thee, a poor, lost, condemned sinner, into my very bleeding heart; and dost thou deny that thou didst ever know me? Canst thou inflict another and a deeper wound? Canst thou add another and a keener pang to those now falling, like a storm, upon me from my enemies, deriding, and scorning, and rejecting me?” O, what a reproof was that look! It was indeed tender; but its very tenderness made it all the more keen. Blessed Jesus! we love thee for all the reproofs of thine eye,—reproofs most deserved, most searching. We have met thy look in secret; in solitude and in sorrow it has spoken to us, revealing our sin and thy displeasure, and we bless thee for the look.
It was a look of full forgiveness. Who can doubt but that, at this moment, Jesus, by his blessed Spirit, did secretly write upon the heart of his backsliding disciple the free pardon of his sin. And such is ever the look of Christ to us. Be it a look expressive of wounded love; be it a look of mournful remembrance; or be it a look of searching reproof; it yet is always a look of most free and full forgiveness. “I have pardoned,” is its language. And this is the meaning of Christ’s look now penetrating the dark cloud of your heart’s grief, suffering believer. It may revive the recollection of past offences; it may search, and rebuke, and alarm; yet beware of interpreting it all of displeasure; it is a look of loving forgiveness. The sharpest reproof the look of Christ ever conveyed to a believer, spake of pardoned sin. It must be so, since the covenant of peace provides, and the atonement of Jesus secures, the entire canceling of all his sin. Meet the eye of Jesus, then, with confidence and love. There may be self-reproach in your conscience; there is no harsh reproach in his look. The uplifted glance of your eye may be sin-repenting, the downward beaming of his is sin-forgiving. O! press to your heart the consolation and joy of this truth,—the glance of Jesus falling upon his accepted child ever speaks of pardoned sin. Chastened, sorrowful, and secluded, you may be, yet your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. O! I know not a truth more calculated to light up the gloom of a lone chamber, to lift up the drooping spirit of a heart-sick child of God, than the announcement that God, for Christ’s sake, has pardoned all his transgressions and his sins, and stands to him in the relation of a reconciled Father. Suffering child of God! with this divine declaration would I come to you in your sorrow and seclusion:—“O Israel! thou shalt not be forgotten of me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins. Return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.” O! that the Spirit, the Comforter, may sweeten your solitude and cheer your gloom, and give you this song to sing in the night season of your grief: “Bless the Lord, O my soul! and forget not all his benefits; who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction, and crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies.” Forget not that the look of Christ is ever, to his saints, a look of pardoning love.
The posture of Jesus when he looked upon his sinning disciple was most expressive. “The Lord turned.” Here was the first step of recovery taken on the part of Christ. And what has all the restoring conduct of our Lord been towards us, but just this turning to us, when we had turned from him? “We have wandered, he has gone after us; we have departed, he has pursued us; we have stumbled, he has upheld us; we have fallen, he has raised us up again; we have turned from him, he has turned to us. O! the wonderful love, and long-suffering patience of Christ! And what is still his language, speaking to us in that look? “Return unto me, for I have redeemed thee.” And what should be the response of our hearts? “Behold, “we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God.” Then, “let us search and try our ways, and turn AGAIN unto the Lord.” Yes, my reader, again. What! after all my backslidings and recoveries, my departures and returns, may I turn again to the Lord? Yes! with confidence we say it, “turn AGAIN unto the Lord.” That look of love beaming from the eye of Jesus, invites you, woos you to return AGAIN, yes, this once more, to the shelter of his pierced side, to the home of his wounded heart.
And O! how acute the sorrow awakened by a look from Christ. “Peter went out and wept bitterly.” How melting is the look of wounded love! A Father’s eye, beaming with tenderness upon a rebellious, wandering child, inviting, welcoming his return,—what adamant can resist it? Peter’s sorrow, too, was solitary. He went out from the high priest’s hall, and sought some lone place to weep. Ah! the deepest, bitterest, truest grief for sin, is felt and expressed beneath God’s eye alone. When the wakeful pillow of midnight is moistened, when the heart unveils in secret to the eye of Jesus, when the chamber of privacy witnesses to the confidential confessions, and moanings, and pleadings of a wandering heart, there is then felt and expressed a sorrow for sin, so genuine, so delicate, and so touching, as cannot but draw down upon the soul a look from Christ the most tender in its expression, and the most forgiving in its language.
And what, my reader, shall be the one practical lesson we draw from this subject? Even this—Let us always endeavour to realise the loving eye of Jesus resting upon us. In public and in private, in our temporal and spiritual callings, in prosperity and in adversity, in all places and on all occasions, and under all circumstances, O! let us live as beneath its focal power. When our Lord gave this look to Peter, his eyes were dim with grief; but now that he is in heaven, they are “as a flame of fire.” To his saints not a burning, withering, consuming flame, but a flame of inextinguishable love. Deem not yourself, then, secluded believer, a banished and an exiled one, lost to all sight. Other eyes may be withdrawn and closed, distance intercepting their view, or death darkening their vision; but the eye of Jesus, your Lord, rests upon you ever, in ineffable delight, and with unslumbering affection. “I will guide thee with mine eye,” is the gracious promise of your God. Be ever and intently gazing on that Eye, “looking unto Jesus.” He is the Fountain of Light; and in the light radiating from his eye you shall, in the gloomiest hour of your life, see light upon your onward way. “By his light I walked through darkness.”
“Bend not thy light-desiring eyes below;
There thy own shadow waits upon thee ever;
But raise thy looks to Heaven,—and lo!
The shadeless sun rewards thy weak endeavor.
Who sees the dark, is dark; but turn towards the light,
And thou becomest like that which fills thy sight.”
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
~ 2 Corinthians 3:18