Peter’s Denial explained

‘(…) the case of the Apostle Peter. Jesus says to his disciples, “All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended because of thee, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. But Peter spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise.” (Mark xiv, 27-31.) The Lord had previously, in the same conversation, said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you [Or, rather, hath desired and obtained 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.” (Luke xxii, 31, 32.) Peter was designed to be one of the master spirits in the Gospel Church. Amid the many responsibilities and the great honors which were soon to be bestowed upon him, he needed, more than Paul ever needed, a thorn in the flesh. He was truly a good and noble man, but he had serious defects of character. He was too self-confident, too impulsive and opinionated. In him the active temperament was disproportioned to the meditative. Now, all these qualities, if held in due subjection, were indispensable to one who was to be a great reformer, one who was destined to meet so signally the opposition of the Jews, and to be the first of the Abrahamic race to disregard the exclusiveness of Judaism, and publish to the Gentiles the offer of eternal life.

But these qualities were then in excess. They needed to be moderated and disciplined, lest sometimes they might betray him into extravagancies, inconsistencies, and other mistakes, which would be seriously detrimental to the momentous interests which were about to be intrusted to him. He was, therefore, as we think, allowed, under demoniacal influences, to do that which would prove an efficient restraint and control over his objectionable characteristics, and bring into full activity all the requisite and noble qualities of a great reformer. He was allowed to do that which, to the latest hours of his life, taught him humility, and largely prepared him to be the consistent and sagacious apostle, the dauntless moral hero, which he afterward became. The remembrance of that deed of denial inspired him with invincible zeal, courage and fortitude through all the privations and persecutions of his illustrious career as a minister of the Gospel of his thrice denied, but forgiving, Lord. The recollection of that mysterious hour of unfaithfulness sent him patiently and modestly through the most trying vicissitudes. “We all know,” says “Ecce Deus,” “what a strong man Peter became after his restoration; how he excelled all the New Testament writers in richness of pathos, and how he rivaled even Paul in labor and catholicity. How could any other conceivable experience have done so much to correct his constitutional defects, to keep him constantly on his guard, and to prepare him for the fiery trials, desertion, hate, and misrepresentations he must encounter?” On that memorable occasion the Savior made a personal address which was calculated to draw from Peter strong declarations of loyalty, fidelity, and heroism. It seems as if Christ were pondering a needed lesson and discipline, which he desired to fix indelibly in the heart of his most ardent apostle. He saw it necessary to allow the will of Peter to be so tempted by demoniacal spirits that he could not withstand their assaults. With the best and most benign ends in view, he suffered him then to be “tempted above that he was able to bear.” Christ allows Satan to tempt to a certain degree all his followers, and it may be his procedure in many cases to allow him to tempt his chosen instruments as he allowed him to tempt the Apostle Peter.

In that temptation, so soon to come upon Peter, Christ, as we view the transaction, did not make a way of escape, that he might be able to bear it. The Omniscient Savior beheld in him thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and purposes indicative of much carnality, and wholly inconsistent with his divinely appointed life-work. Peter did not know himself as well as his Divine Master knew him. He thought he was true; he knew he wanted to be true and loyal and heroic. It is probable that his conception of the malignity of Satan and of his own entire helplessness was not sufficiently vivid and permanent. His Divine Master saw that, after all he had done for him, there was a great discrepancy between his nature and the standard of the divine law. He also saw, what Peter could not see, the assaults which Satan then purposed to make upon him. Satan had ample reasons for supposing that Peter was to be a chosen instrument in the spiritual movement which Jesus was then so thoughtfully and anxiously inaugurating. He therefore singled him out for special and varied temptations, resolving to do, as the Savior had declared he would do sift him as wheat. By the defection of Peter and Judas, and still more by the crucifixion of Jesus, he hoped to break the grand center of the great religious movement then beginning to attract public attention. It was, as we have already suggested, to teach Peter lessons never to be forgotten, that Satanic influences were allowed to come in upon him like a flood, and that the Almighty Deliverer, who alone could raise up a standard against the foe, declined, up to a certain point, to interpose in, behalf of his chosen apostle. Christ could foreknow and foretell the act of denial, because he knew that Peter’s will would be so overborne by temptational influences that it would move as it was moved upon, and thus act, though consentingly, under unconscious constraint.


source: Lorenzo Dow McCabe, The Foreknowledge of God, and Cognate Themes in Theology and Philosophy (1887), chapter V: The Application of these Principles, p. 247-249.

Read also “Gregory Boyd on Peter’s Denial“.


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