George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Grace of Continuance
But Peter continued knocking--Act 12:16
A Person Should Not Be Judged by a Single Action
It is perilous to judge a person by one action. Life is too complex and intricate for that. It is as if one were to judge a countryside by a single and isolated clump of trees. Ruskin has it that if out of a Turner landscape you cut a quarter of an inch of sky, within that single quarter of an inch you would feel the infinity of heaven; and it may be there are lives like that, so penetrated with purpose or with passion, that wherever you touch them you get the real character. As a general rule, however, it is a perilous thing to judge a man by any single action. In his great hours he may be greater than himself; possibly he may be less than his true self. And always it is wisest, if you would judge a person not by the tenor of his life but by an action, to take an action of a usual kind. There was an hour, for instance, when Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the priest's servant with it. There was another hour--never to be forgotten--when, panic-stricken, he denied his Lord. But if I wished to know the real Peter, I should not turn to either of these hours; I should rather choose an action such as this--Peter continued knocking. Shall I tell you what it reveals in the apostle? Three things that are well worth observing.
I: Peter's Courage
In the first place, this common act shows Peter's courage. It makes that unmistakable. Whoever it was who stood there in the street, it was not a panic-stricken man. When Peter broke prison we know what hour it was; it was the fourth watch of the night, between 3 and 6 in the morning. This indicates that it was no longer dark; the day was beginning to glimmer in the east. And the smoke of the household fires was mounting heavenward, and the first footfalls were echoing on the pavements, and Peter continued knocking. Shrouded in the darkness of the third watch, he might have been reasonably safe out in the street. But in the fourth watch, when the sun was rising, it was at his peril that he delayed a moment. Yet Peter, who had once been panic-stricken and in an agony of fear denied his Lord, was evidently not panic-stricken now. It was a very usual thing to do, and yet it was a courageous thing to do; far more courageous than that whirling passion which plucked the sword out of the scabbard once. And it sprang from the certainty that God was with him, and having rescued him would not desert him now. "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me."
The Courage to Continue Knocking
Now that is a lesson we would do well to learn about the essential quality of courage. Just to continue knocking patiently may be braver than the most gallant deed. I grant you there come moments in our lives when courage may flash into dramatic splendor. There are hours for men of crowded life which are worth an age without a name. When the soldier dismounts to save a wounded comrade--when the fireman risks his life to save a child, there is something in that which strangely moves the heart. But that is the courage which is thrilling rather than the courage which is telling. The truest courage in this life of ours is seldom momentary or spectacular. It moves in the shadow of the dreary street; dwells in the dull seclusion of the home; continues doing things, with quiet heart, when the natural impulse would be to turn and flee. Just to get up each dull and dreary morning and say, "Please God I shall play my part today"; just to go out and do it quietly in the teeth of weariness and ingratitude; just to shut our ears to calling voices and bear our daily cross victoriously, is the finest heroism on this side the river. No man is ever far from the heroic who has learned to do things when he feels least like them. There is little hope for a man in this strange world who surrenders to his whimsies every morning To trample under foot all moods and feelings--to get to our duty and our cross in spite of them--to do that summer and winter till we die is the one road to the music and the crown. That was pre-eminently true of Christ. His was the courage of continuance. Through ridicule, through obloquy, through suffering, Christ continued knocking
II: Peter's Understanding
In the second place, this common action reveals to us Peter's understanding. Clearly he did not misinterpret what was happening within the house. Contrast him, for instance, with Naaman. When Naaman was bidden go and wash in Jordan, he thought that the prophet was making light of him. So Naaman turned and went away in a rage because he misinterpreted the prophet. And if Peter had misinterpreted like that, he too would have gone away in a great rage; but Peter continued knocking. We are always ready for misinterpretation when we knock or ring at a door and no one answers; doubly ready when we see peering faces behind the glass of the door or through the blind. And that is precisely what Peter had to bear, for Rhoda came and looked and went away again, and yet Peter understood it perfectly. The fact is he understood their feelings by what had happened that morning to himself. That is always how we understand people; by the kind of thing which has happened to ourselves. Half an hour earlier Peter had seen an angel, and he had been dazed and thought it was a ghost; and now they think that Peter is a ghost, and Peter instantly grasps the situation. That is why he did not grow indignant. That is why he did not stalk away. He understood from his own stupefaction how terrified they would be for a few moments. And so he stood there, out in the street at daybreak, and continued knocking and showed by his action that he understood.
Is it not usually in that way that people come to know we understand them? "Though I speak with the tongue of men and of angels, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." To be misunderstood is a true grief. It is a grief which Christ experienced to the full. A man is never himself--never at his best--when he is surrounded by misunderstanding But when a man feels that he is understood, he casts aside reserve and is himself, and he generally feels that through common touches. There are people who would give their bodies to be burned, and yet you never feel they understand. There are others who do no splendid services, and yet have a genius for understanding, By a kindly question, by a homely word, by a little deed of kindness light as gossamer, men waken to find that they are understood. All great leaders of men have had that gift. It is really the secret of personal attraction. No power of organizing mighty armies will ever explain Napoleon, for example. Along with that must be the touch which tells and the mystic sympathy that breaks down strangerhood if dying legionaries are to cry "My Emperor." If thou canst serve in great and splendid ways, then go and serve thus, and the Lord reward thee. If thou hast genius or if thou hast wealth, consecrate them all to noble causes. But if thou canst only do quite common kindnesses, do not neglect them while the days are hurrying, for they tell men that they are understood.
III: Peter's Consecration
Then, in the third place, this common action reveals to us Peter's consecration. He stood there knocking--and half an hour before he had been in the royal company of angels. It is all very well for a beggar to stand and knock. But Peter had had an experience that morning which had lifted him up into the courts of heaven. He had been made a little lower than the angels, for he had had an angel for his visitor., and yet in the dawn out in the common street Peter continued knocking. A little while before, that very morning, Peter had come to a great iron gate. And at a single touch of the angelic finger that gate had opened to let Peter through. And now he was at no massive iron gate, but at the humble door of a very humble dwelling--and he continued knocking Had this chapter been a medieval legend, you would have had that cottage door fly open also. But the Book of Acts is no Arabian Nights: it is true to experience, and it is true to character. For sometimes the massive gates which we have dreaded fly open at the touch of God when we reach them, and the little doors are the hardest to get through. That is why I say a touch like this shows Peter as a consecrated man. He had been exalted up to heaven, and difficulties had vanished from his path. And now he was back again among life's obstacles, and the street doors that everybody knows--and he continued knocking.
Now unquestionably, as it was with Peter, so is it with every one of us. There is no such certain mark of consecration as just to return like that to common levels. We too, like Peter, have our hours of vision. We have our seasons when the heavens are opened. We have our mornings when we see the angels in the light that never was on sea or land. It may be in church--it may be in the country; it may be when love comes in and sings her music; it may be when someone very dear is taken, and the heart is emptier than the home. In such an hour as that we are like Peter. The angels are never far away. In such an hour as that, whether for weal or woe, we see our visions and we dream our dreams. And then we have to go back to common doors where there is no mystery of blood upon the lintel, and the question is what shall we do then? There are some who are too unsettled to do anything. They could have knocked yesterday; they cannot knock today. They have lost all interest in common tasks, and the dreary round of duty is unbearable. But he who is consecrated as Simon Peter was through the pardoning and restoring love of Christ--he will continue knocking. He will be a better father to his children. He will be a more chivalrous brother to his sisters. Deepened by sorrow, purified by love, he will go with a faithful heart to his day's drudgery. He will continue knocking till the door shall open, and faces that he has loved will answer his in a fellowship where time and space are not.
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