Simon Peter’s History

 •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Simon Peter’s history is deeply instructive and portrays a view of every Christian, from the first step in acquaintance with Christ to the state in which the Holy Spirit can, without hindrance, show forth His power. During this interval, the full energy of grace is unfolded, bringing the soul into the knowledge of Christ and of Christian privileges. We see also the breaking down of soul necessary to enable the believer, after having lost confidence in self, to realize his privileges and follow the Lord in the path marked out by Him.
Peter’s history in the Word of God divides itself naturally into two parts, one of which we find in the Gospels and the other in the Acts of the Apostles. The first part corresponds with the truths mentioned above; the second is filled (though not without failure on the part of the instrument) with the activity of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Peter, and with that divine power which sustains him as a witness for Christ amid obstacles and conflict.
The First Contact
The way in which Peter comes in contact with the Lord in Luke’s Gospel is worthy of note. Simon’s wife’s mother (Luke 4:38-3938And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon's house. And Simon's wife's mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her. 39And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered unto them. (Luke 4:38‑39)) was taken with a great fever which rendered her helpless. Jesus heals her and fits her to serve Him. It is often thus that the soul meets Christ for the first time. It comes in contact with Him by means of the blessings bestowed by Him on others. When the moment comes for Him to reveal Himself to our own hearts, we find that He is not altogether a stranger. The Lord uses this preparatory knowledge to shorten the work by which our consciences are awakened to a sense of sin and our hearts to a sense of grace. In this Gospel, Simon Peter knew Jesus from having seen Him at work in his house.
The Fisherman
The son of Jonas was a fisherman by trade; he possessed what was requisite for catching fish — a boat and nets. He had used them to obtain what he wanted, and he had worked all night for this purpose, but without any result. Thus the natural man, employs his faculties and the means placed at his disposal to obtain something which will fill and satisfy his heart. But it is in vain; the net remains empty. His labor yields nothing which can answer the deep need of his soul. Simon and his companions, having taken nothing, quit their boats and wash their nets. They set about washing them, for they had taken up nothing but the mud from the bottom of the sea, and when this is done they will recommence fishing. Is it not thus with a man of the world? He renews his labors to attain a desired goal every day without success.
But when man’s powerlessness has been made evident, Jesus appears, seemingly not occupied with Peter. He teaches the multitudes, but in the midst of His ministry His heart is with Simon, and He does not lose sight of him. Entering into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, He prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. He separates Peter with Himself from the crowd, and thus Peter hears all the Lord says. Jesus had been no stranger to Peter previous to this; now he listens to His word, and his position of isolation with Him contributes to render him the more attentive. Still, from verse 5 we may infer that the conviction of the authority of the Word was all that he retained.
After this, we find the Lord more specially occupied with Peter. He said to him, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” Peter had done that all night, but until then it had been done by the will of man; now it is at the word of the Lord. Peter believes this word and submits to it. The first result of God’s Word is to produce faith, and faith accepts its authority and obeys. The Lord has spoken; that is enough for faith. But Jesus addresses Peter in a yet more powerful way and shows him in whose presence he is, thus reaching his conscience. He, the Creator who disposes of everything, collects the fishes in broad daylight, when there had been none at night, and fills Peter’s nets with them. He fills the human vessels with blessings such as they are unable to contain without breaking and which surpass the needs of the disciple. His companions arrive with a second ship, which sinks likewise, so abundant are the riches given by the Lord of glory.
The Sinner
Peter sees (vs. 8) all this blessing; it places him for the first time in the presence of Him who is the Source and Administrator of blessing. Thus it is not only the word of Jesus which strikes him, but Jesus Himself, and the glory of His person. A revolution takes place in his soul. The blessing, instead of producing joy, causes conviction of sin and fear, because it brings him into the presence of the Lord of glory. On the other hand, the sense of his condition, while giving him the terrible certainty that Jehovah ought to repulse him, yet casts him at the feet of Jesus as his only resource. But the God who has been sinned against pardons. God is known in His love.
It is blessed for the sinner to know his real condition, the judgment which is his due, and the holiness of the Lord. “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man.” Peter judges himself to be a sinner and unfit for the presence of God. He trembles before His holiness and righteousness. As yet he only knows half instinctively what grace is, and he is ignorant how God can be just in justifying him that believes in Jesus, but he is at His feet, and he does not flee away, because if there is any hope, it is there. As long as he was occupied in washing his nets, he knew neither God nor himself, but now he knows both, and it is a remarkable thing that he does not judge what he has done, but what he is. Many souls acknowledge that they have to repent of their guilty acts and judge them, but they have not been brought to see the source of these acts. Underneath the sins there is “a sinful man.” The sense of God’s presence opens our eyes, shows us what we are, and makes us see that our only refuge is with the One who could condemn us.
The Follower
Fear had laid hold of Peter, but the Lord never allows fear to exist in His presence. He speaks and banishes the fear, because He is the Lord of grace. He allows everything else to remain — weakening in no wise the effects of the work in the soul — but He removes the fear. No, the Lord does not depart from him. He says, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” He says, as it were, If I had not met you to save you, I could not save others by your instrumentality. He does more than make Simon Peter happy; He bestows a fresh blessing on him, promising him service, so that, instead of remaining a sinner, Peter becomes a servant, able to leave all and follow Jesus.
Peter Going to Jesus on the Water
Peter’s first act had been to cast himself at Jesus’ knees, acknowledging his sinful condition. Later he sets out to meet Him walking on the water (Matt. 14:22-3322And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. 24But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. 25And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. 26And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 27But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. 28And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. 29And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? 32And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. 33Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God. (Matthew 14:22‑33)). This order is important to notice. To go forth to meet the Saviour follows conversion and precedes service. Peter, having as yet only the promise of being made a fisher of men, was already impelled to go to meet Him. He turned to look at the One who descended from the mountaintop, and this was but the beginning of the glorious revelations he was to receive as to the person of Christ.
Peter’s knowledge at first is very superficial. He says, “Lord, if it be Thou,” but it suffices for the start. Everything depends for him on the identity of the person, and if it be He, His word is sufficient to make Peter leave the ship. He says, “Bid me come unto Thee on the water.” It was a serious thing to leave the place of apparent security to walk where there was no way, but the word of Christ was sufficient for him. He knew its power. At His word he had let go of the net; at His word he sets forth. It enables him to walk on the water even as it had brought him to know the Saviour. In asking this favor, Peter had no thought of making an experiment or showing off his cleverness in overcoming obstacles; what he wanted was to go to Him. Christ attracted him, and for the moment he thought not of wind or waves. If the natural heart ignores the path which leads to Christ, faith finds a way amid difficulties of all kinds, in the night as in the storm, and makes use of them to get nearer to the Lord. Faith leads him to leave the boat, the only apparent shelter, not esteeming it to be the true place of safety, and to reach Jesus, whose presence is worth more to him than getting to the other shore.
First Faith and Love
We often begin well; the first faith and the first love, the simplicity of a heart filled by an object, sustains us, and then we allow the eye to be diverted from its object. Satan had sought to trouble the disciples by making them afraid of Jesus (vs. 26), but they soon learned from His lips to be of good cheer. Then the enemy alarms them with difficulties. What folly to listen to him, for do not difficulties lead us to Christ? Poor unbelieving creatures that we are! In our trials, as in our needs, the only thing we forget is the very thing we ought not to lose sight of — divine power. Peter also, after having set forth, began to think of the violence of the wind and to look back on his own strength, forgetting that he had before him a power of attraction stronger than the power of gravity that would infallibly bring him to Jesus. And he begins to sink.
Who has not, like Peter, been on the point of sinking? Have we all not shared the same fate? But a cry bursts from the lips of the disciple, “Lord, save me”; he does not say, “Depart from me,” for the believer knows the Saviour and that His character is to save. Peter calls for help just as he is on the point of attaining his object, and Jesus has only to stretch forth His hand to draw him to Himself. One moment more of faith, and the disciple would not have sunk. Shall we still doubt? Let us trust Him who is able to save us to the end, for the storm will not cease until the Lord and His own are definitively united.
H. L. Rossier, adapted