J.C. Ryle: Men fall in private, long before they fall in public

Matthew 26:69-75, part of our passage for today, tells of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus.  J.C. Ryle writes of a series of steps that he believes are recorded for our benefit and learning:

  • The first step to Peter’s fall was SELF-CONFIDENCE. He said, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.”
  • The second step was INDOLENCE. His Master told him to watch and pray. Instead of doing so, he slept.
  • The third step was cowardly COMPROMISING. Instead of keeping close to his Master, he first forsook him, and then “followed him afar off.”
  • The last step was NEEDLESS VENTURING INTO EVIL COMPANY. He went into the priest’s palace, and “sat with the servants,” like one of themselves.
  • And then came the final fall, the cursing, the swearing, and the three-fold DENIAL. Startling as it appears, his heart had been preparing for it. It was the fruit of seeds which he himself had sown. “He ate the fruit of his own ways.”

Let us remember this part of Peter’s history. It is deeply instructive to all who profess and call themselves Christians. Great illnesses seldom attack the body, without a previous train of premonitory symptoms. Great falls seldom happen to a saint, without a previous course of secret backsliding. The church and the world are sometimes shocked by the sudden misconduct of some great professor of religion. Believers are discouraged and stumbled by it. The enemies of God rejoice and blaspheme. But if the truth could be known, the explanation of such cases would generally be found to have been private departure from God. Men fall in private, long before they fall in public. The tree falls with a great crash, but the secret decay which accounts for it, is often not discovered until it is down on the ground.