A Sermon For A Winter’s Evening
“ And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals, for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.”
WE note from this incident that it was a cold night in which our Redeemer agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane.[See Sermon #2767, Volume 48–JESUS IN GETHSEMANE–Read/download the entire sermon, free of charge, at http://www.spurgeongems.org.] A cold night andyet He sweat! A cold night and yet there fell from Him, not the sweat of a man who earns the staff of life, but the sweat of One who was earning life, itself. “His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” No natural heat of the sun, or of a sultry evening caused this! The heat within His soul distilled those sacred drops! His heart’s throbs were so mighty that it seemed to empty itself and His life-floods rushed with such awful force that the veins, like overfilled rivers, burst their banks and covered His blessed Person with gory drops! On such a wintry night as this, while you wrap your garments about you, I would ask you to remember the olive garden and the lone Sufferer, all unsheltered, entering into the dread anguish by which He won our souls from death and Hell! The sharp frost may be a useful monitor to us if it makes us think of Him and remember that dark, that doleful night when all the powers of evil met and, even unto blood, He strove with them for our sakes!
Now we will take you away from the Garden to the high priest’s hall where the incident occurred which is regarded in the text–and we will make as good a use as we can of it. I suppose it was a large dark hall in which the soldiers, the priests and the rabble were gathered together. There may have been a few lamps lighting up the far end where Christ was with His judge and His accusers. But the greater part of the hall would have no other light than the glare of the fire which had been kindled–a charcoal fire, around which the band of men who had seized Christ and the servants of the high priest gathered to keep themselves warm. We are going to make five observations upon that and upon the fact that Peter was among those who warmed themselves at that fire.
- The first observation is this. THIS IS A TYPICAL INCIDENT AS TO THE MOST OF MEN.
Jesus Christ was being tried. Some were very busy about it, being full of malice and burning with rage. But a great many more were indifferent–and in the Presence of a rejected and maltreated Savior were carelessly warming their hands. It was not a matter that interested them. They did not care whether He escaped or was condemned–it was very cold and so they warmed their hands. Now, in a land like this, where Jesus Christ is preached, it is a sad circumstance that there are individuals who oppose Him and His Gospel. There is the infidel who denies the Gospel altogether. There is the superstitious man who sets up another way of salvation. And there is the persecutor who rages at Christ and His people. Yet these active enemies are comparatively few–the great bulk of those who hear the Gospel are not open opponents–but like Gallio, care for none of these things. They know that there is a Christ and they have some idea of His salvation, but it does not interest them, or awaken any sympathy in their minds. “What shall we eat and what shall we drink?”–these are the great questions of their catechism! But as to who this glorious Sufferer is and why He died, and what are the blessings which He bought with His precious blood–none of these things move them–and they forget, neglect, or despise the great salvation and the Savior, too! They are full of the business of warming their hands! The death of Jesus may be important to other people. It may concern ministers, clergymen and professors, but it is nothing at all to them. They have other matters to attend to and their own comfort is their main concern. Around that charcoal fire the servants of the high priest warmed their hands and so, in their temporal comforts, or in murmuring at the lack of them, the most of men spend their lives. To them it is nothing that Jesus should die! A rise in their wages, a fall in provisions, or a change in the money market is far more important to them!
If you think of it, this is a very terrible thing. Christ came into the world to save men, yet men do not think it worth their while to turn their gaze upon Him! He takes their nature, but His Incarnation does not interest them. He dies that men may not perish–and men care not one whit for His great love! One goes away to his farm and another to his merchandise. One has bought a yoke of oxen and goes to test them. Another has married a wife and, therefore, he cannot come. They are eager for the bread which perishes, but they make light of the meat which endures the everlasting life! They think much of this world, but nothing of the world to come. Jesus is over yonder at His trial and they are warming their hands!
I pray you think this over a few minutes, any of you who have been indifferent to the great realities of redemption, and see what it is and who it is that you thus treat with discourtesy. It is the Son of God, the Redeemer of men, whom you neglect! Can you imitate those who rattled the dice-box at the foot of the Cross, in utter hardness of heart, though Christ’s blood was falling upon them as they cast lots for His clothes? Can you trifle in the Presence of a dying Savior? Canyou, did I say? Alas, some have done so for thirty, forty, fifty and even 60 years! And unless the almighty Grace of God prevents, they will continue to trifle, still–to sport, play and seek their own welfare in the Presence of the bleeding Son of God, within earshot of His dying groans!
Look, He dies and they place His body in the sepulcher! But on the third day, according to His promise, He rises again from the dead! That risen Savior is surrounded by the glory of unspeakably precious promises, for He has risen for the justification of His people and as the first fruits of them that slept–the great pledge that all those who sleep in Him shall rise as He has risen! An august mystery–a mystery which brought angels out of Heaven, the one to sit at the head and the other at the feet, where His body had lain! And yet men eat, drink, sleep and wake as if no risen Jesus had been here! In the Presence of the risen Christ many only warm their hands, for it is cold. The animal has mastered the mental. The body, which is the baser part of man, and cleaves to the dust, has subdued the soul, and so the man allows himself to trifle in the Presence of Jesus risen from the dead!
Nor is this all, for He that rose from the dead ascended after 40 days! A cloud received Him out of the sight of His disciples and He rose into Glory and now He sits at the right hand of the Father, reigning there, head over all principalities and powers–King of kings and Lord of lords! Men do not generally trifle in the presence of a king. If they have petitions to present, they put on an air of reverence. In the Presence of the Royal Intercessor who pleads for us day and night, one would think there would be some interest excited! But no, the multitude warm their hands and think nothing of Him. In His Presence, they forget His redeeming love, neglect His great salvation and remain without God and without Christ. This is terrible! As I see the worldling merely caring for his personal comfort while Christ is in Glory, I marvel, first, at the insolence of the sinner and, secondly, at the Infinite Patience of the Savior!
The Lord Jesus is to come a second time to judge the earth in righteousness. When He shall appear, no man knows, but come He will–and everyone of us must stand before Him. If we are alive and remain, we shall join in that great throng. And if we fall asleep before His coming, we shall rise from the dead at the sound of the trumpet which proclaims His Advent–and shall all be judged of the Most High. The hour of His appearing is not revealed in order that we may always stand on tiptoe, expecting it to be today, or tomorrow, for He has said, “Behold, I come quickly.” Oh, how can you still be money-grubbing, pleasure-seeking, enjoying yourselves, living only for this world, living to got a competence, living to be what is called, “respectable,” and to feed yourselves like the beasts of the field? Have you no thoughts for the Judge and the day of His coming? Shall our immortal spirits spend all their energies on these trifling temporary things in prospect of that great tremendous Day when Christ with clouds shall come? Surely the solemnities of judgment should constrain us to think of something nobler than earth and time!
There was no harm in their warming their hands, neither is there any harm in our attending to the things of this life. Indeed, they ought to be seen to, and seen to with care–but there is something higher, something nobler and loftier for us to do than to serve ourselves! And as it was horrible that we should be so callous in the presence of the suffering Jews, so is the widespread indifference of sinners a terrible thing! I would to God that the unthinking portion of those who hear the Gospel might be startled out of their groveling care for the things of this life and each one of them be led to ask, “What have I to do with this Jesus of Nazareth? Is His blood sprinkled upon me? Has He cleansed me from my sin? May I hope for salvation through Him?” Oh, consider these things and give an answer to your consciences! And God do so with you as you shall think of Christ, your Lord.
II. Secondly, we remark that FOR A DISCIPLE TO MAKE HIS OWN COMFORT THE CHIEF THING IN THE PRESENCE OF HIS SUFFERING MASTER IS MOST INCONSISTENT.
One does not wonder at the high priest’s servants making a fire of coals, for it was cold–and one is not surprised at their standing to warm their hands, for they knew but little, comparatively, of Christ. They had never tasted of His love, they had never seen His miracles, they had not been asked to watch with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, they had never heard Him say, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you.” The marvel is that Peter should stand there among them warming his hands! Why did he do so? Not because he was indifferent to hisMaster. Let us do him justice–it is plain that he was in a dreadful state of mind that night. He was so attached to his Master that he followed Him up to the door of the hall and stopped there till John came out and admitted him. He went up to the fire because he thought he must act as others did, so as to escape suspicion. And as they warmed their hands, he did the same, so as to appear as one of them. It so happened, however, that the light of the fire shone upon his face and lit up his countenance, so that one said, “You are one of His disciples.” Then, to get away from observation, we find Peter passing into another part of the hall, where, I suppose, it was darker. The people were talking and Peter must talk, for it was his weakness to do so, and, moreover, he might have been suspected again had he been silent. Then another remarked, “You also are of Galilee, for your speech betrays you.” He was discovered, again, and so made for the door, but was known there, also. He was all in a tremble. He did love his Master, weak as his faith was and, therefore, he could not leave Him–and yet he was afraid to confess Him. He was worried and troubled, tossed to and fro between a desire to rush forward and do some rash thing for his Lord–and a fear for his own life! He went to the fire because nobody would think that a follower of Jesus could warm his hands while his Master was being despitefully entreated.
You see the gist of my observation, that for a disciple of Christ to make his own ease and comfort the main thing is most palpably inconsistent with the Christian character! Ah, dear Brothers and Sisters, our Lord had not where to lay His head. Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor–can it be consistent for the Christian to make the getting of money the main business of life? Is such a disciple like his Master? The Master gives up everything–shall the disciple labor to aggrandize himself?
Some warm their hands, not at the fire of wealth so much as at the fire of honor. They want approbation, respect, esteem–and they will do anything to gain it. Conscience is violated and principle is forgotten to gain the approbation of their fellow men. Whatever happens, they must be respected and admired. Is this as it should be? Are they really disciples of the Nazarene? Is that their Master, despised and rejected, spit upon and jeered? Is He their Lord who made Himself of no reputation? If so, how can they court the smiles of men and sacrifice the Truth of God to popularity? What can be more inconsistent than the disciple warming his hands and the Master enduring the contradiction of sinners against Himself? Dear Brothers and Sisters, every time our cheek crimsons with shame because of the taunts of the wicked and we lower our colors because of the jeers of the godless, we are guilty at heart of the meanness of seeking to fare better than our Lord! Every time we check a testimony because it would involve us in censure, every time we stay from a labor because we covet ease, every time we are impatient at the suffering which the Cross involves, every time we “make provision for the flesh, to obey the lusts thereof,” every time we seek ease where He toiled, honor where He was put to shame and luxury where He endured an ignominious death–we are like Peter among the ribald throng–warming our hands at the fire while our Lord is buffeted and shamefully entreated! May the Holy Spirit keep us from this!
III. We now come to our third observation. IT IS MUCH BETTER TO BE COLD THAN TO WARM OURSELVES WHERE WE ARE EXPOSED TO TEMPTATION.
Peter, if he had known it, was better off outside the door than in the hall. I suppose he had forgotten the Master’s warnings, for if he had thought of them, he would have said to himself, “Peter, you had better go home. Did not Jesus, in fact, tell you to go home when He said to those who came to seize Him, ‘If you seek Me, let these go their way’?” It would seem to have been the path of humble obedience to have gone his way and not to have pressed into the hall. Though no doubt the motives which led both Peter and John into the high priest’s house were commendable, Peter’s position among the soldiers and hangers-on around the fire was extremely full of peril and offered no corresponding advantages. Did he not know that “evil communications corrupt good manners”? Did he not know that the men who had taken his Lord prisoner were not fit associates for him? Should he not have felt that though he might have his hands warmed, he would be likely to get his heart blackened by mixing with such company?
Brothers and Sisters, I like to warm my hands, but if I cannot warm them without burning them, I would rather keep them cold! Many things are in a measure desirable, but if you cannot obtain them without exposing yourself to the smut of sin, you had better leave them alone. I have known professors far too anxious to mix with what is called, “good society.” Now, for the most part, good society, as things are, nowadays, is very bad society for a Christian. The best society in the world for me, I know, is to associate with my Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Title, rank and wealth are a poor compensation for the lack of true religion! Yet some professors covet the honors of the ungodly world and they say, “It is not so much for ourselves–we are advanced in years–but we want to bring the girls out, and our young men, you know, our sons must have some society.” Yes, and for the sake of this dangerous luxury our churches are deprived of successors to godly fathers! Instead of seeing the younger members of Christian households drafted into our ranks, we have continually to begin again with new converts from the outer world. Full often professors who God prospers in this world so train their children that they forsake the spiritual worship of God and turn their backs on principles for which their forefathers dared to bleed and die! I charge you, Brothers and Sisters, remember that if you cannot be admitted into “society” without concealing your principles, you are far better off without society! Has not our Lord called us to go outside the camp? Are we not warned against being conformed to this world? Deny yourselves the warm place around society’s charcoal fire, for its sulfurous vapor will do you more harm than the cold!
Some whom I have known have ventured very far upon very dangerous ground to win the affection of a chosen object. There is no wiser precept in Holy Scripture than that which commands Christians to marry “only in the Lord.” It never can conduce to take comfort of any Christian man or woman to be unequally yoked together with an unbeliever–you had far better remain in the cold of your bachelor or spinster life than warm your hands at the fire of unhallowed marriage!
Not a few are tempted by the cleverness of certain literature to defile their minds with skeptical and even blasphemous writings. Such-and-such a “Quarterly” or, “Fortnightly,” is so very clever that you are regarded as a Philistine and an ignoramus if you do not read it! Yet if you do read it, you are never the better, but very much the worse for your pains–why, then, yield to its more than doubtful influence? Do you pray the better for such reading? Have you more faith in God after perusing such works? No, but doubts which would not otherwise have occurred to you are sown in your mind, difficulties which only exist in ungodly brains are conjured up–and the time which ought to have been spent in devotion and in growing in Grace, and in bringing others to Jesus–you waste in battling for the very life of your faith which you have needlessly exposed to assault! I do not believe it to be essential to roll in a ditch every day for the sake of proving the efficacy of the clothes brush! Neither is it worthwhile to seek out infidel doubts in order to try our logical powers upon them! Some tell us that we must keep abreast of the times, but if the times run the wrong way, I see no reason why we should run with them! Rather let us leave the times and dwell in the eternities. If I can be cheered and refreshed by good literature, and be the better and wiser for it, I am thankful. But if I must, in warming my hands, defile them with unbelief, I will sooner let them become blue with cold!
Perhaps, dear Friends, our liability to be injured by that which renders us comfortable is one reason why God does not subject some of His best people to the trials of prosperity. Have you not sometimes wished that you were rich? I daresay you have. But perhaps you never will be. You did prosper, once, but it came to an end. Once or twice the prize of wealth seemed within your reach–others seized it–and you are still working hard and earning a bare crust. We do not know what you might have been if you had been allowed to succeed. In warming your hands you might have burned them. Many Christians have been impoverished by their wealth and brought to inward wretchedness by outward prosperity. You have flourished best in the soil in which the Lord has kept you–anywhere else you might have run to seed. Some years since, when the first larch tree was introduced into England, the person who had brought home the specimen put it into his hothouse to grow. It did not flourish, and no wonder, for it delights in a colder atmosphere! The gardener therefore pulled up the spindly thing by the roots and threw it upon the dunghill! And there, to everybody’s surprise, it grew wonderfully! It was created to flourish under trying circumstances–and perhaps you are of the same order. Learn the lesson and be content to be where you are!
IV. A fourth observation is this–IF A CHRISTIAN ACTS INCONSISTENTLY, HE IS PRETTY SURE TO BE FOUND OUT.
Here was Peter warming his hands and he thought that nobody would know him–but his face, as we said before, was illuminated by the light of the fire and one said, “Surely you are one of His disciples.” The fire did not merely warm, but it threw light on him and showed him up. And so, when it comes to pass that a Christian gets into association with the ungodly and figures with them, his sin will find him out. I have noticed, in a very wide sphere of observation, that bad men may do wrong for years and not be discovered–and that hypocrites may contrive to carry on their hypocrisy half a lifetime without being unmasked. But a true man, a real child of God, if he shall only do a tenth as much wrong as others, will be certain to be detected! Peter tried to look uncommonly comfortable and calm while at the fire, but he could not do it. He revealed himself by the twitches of his face and the very look of him! And when he spoke, as we have already said, the tones of his voice betrayed him. A Philistine helmet will not sit well upon an Israelite! He wears it awkwardly and is known, though in disguise. Ah, Christian, you had better keep to your own company–it is of no use for you to try to travel incognito through this world, for it will detect you! Never go where you will be ashamed to be seen,for you will be seen. A city set on a hill cannot be hid! A lighted candle must be seen. A speckled bird will be noticed where no note is taken of others. Worldlings have lynx eyes with which to spy out erring professors–and they are sure to publish your faults for they are sweet morsels to them! “Report it! Report it!” they say. In vain will you try to pass yourself off as a stranger to Christ–your speech will betray you and the finger of scorn will be justly pointed at you for your inconsistency! Therefore, keep to your own company and walk not in the way of the wicked.
- The fifth point is this–and you all know it to be true–IT IS A GREAT DEAL EASIER TO WARM YOUR HANDS THAN YOUR HEARTS.
A few coals in a fire suffice to warm Peter’s hands, but even the Infinite Love of Jesus did not, just then, warm his heart. O Sirs, what was the scene at the end of the hall? Was not that enough to set all hearts aglow? It was a bush that burned with fire and was not consumed! It was the Son of God struck on the mouth and vilely slandered–and yet bearing it all for love of us! O Sirs, there was a furnace at the other end of the hall–a furnace of Divine Love! If Peter had but looked at his Master’s face, marred with agony, and seen upon it the mark of His terrible night’s sweat, surely, had his heart been right, it would have burned within him! One marvels that with such a sight before him–if Peter had been Peter–if he had only been true to that true heart of his, he would have braved the malice of the throng, placed himself side by side with his Lord and said, “Do to me whatever you do to Him. If you smite Him, smite me. Take me and let me suffer with Him.” If he might not have done that, one would not have wondered if Peter had sat there and wept till he broke his heart to see his Master treated so! But alas, the sight of his Lord, accused and betrayed, did not warm Peter’s heart.
My Brothers and Sisters, we sometimes wish that we had actually seen our Lord, but seeing Christ after the flesh was of small service to Peter. It was when the Holy Spirit used the glance of Jesus as a special means of Grace that Peter’s heart was thawed and his eyes dropped with tears of repentance! O Lord and Master, though a bodily sight of You would not warm us if You should walk up these aisles and should show Your pierced hands in this pulpit. Yet, if Your blessed Spirit will come upon us tonight, we shall see You by faith and the sight will make our hearts burn within us, though it is winter! Come, sacred Spirit, shed abroad the love of Jesus in our souls and so shall our love be kindled, and burn vehemently! Grant it, therefore, we pray You, for Your love’s sake! Amen.