Truly, truly, I say to you, When you were young, you gird yourself, and walked where you would: but when you shall be old…
These were Christ's first words to Peter (Matthew 4:19), and His last. They form the beginning and the end of Christian instruction, and on them hang all the law and the prophets. Moreover, the lesson was so continually enforced that when Peter came to write to his brethren he said, "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps." Consider —
I. SOME OF THE PREREQUISITES to compliance with this precept.
1. The will must be subjected to the will of Jesus. Many do not follow Christ, and the secret is they do not wish: they want to have their own way. A little relative of mine was being taught the Lord's prayer, and when he came to "Thy will be done," he said, "Why cannot I say 'my will instead,'" and so do many older children. We have a remarkable illustration of this in the case of Saul of Tarsus. Before the Damascus incident it was ever "My will." But the key-note of his whole after-life was struck when he said, "What wilt Thou?" &c.
2. The eyes must be opened. Blind Bartimaeus could not follow Jesus till He said, "Thy faith hath saved thee," &c. But "immediately" after he did so. So there are multitudes spiritually blind, who cannot tread in Christ's footsteps. Christ must open their eyes to see Him and whither He would lead them.
3. The affections must be aroused. "Lovest thou Me?" "Thou knowest that I love Thee."
II. THE FORCE OF THESE WORDS, especially as connected with the case of Peter. They were words of —
1. Solemn admonition.
(1) Peter was a restored backslider; and part of the meaning to him would be, "All thy mistakes arose from not following Me." So the words have a retrospective use. Who can fail to trace his declensions to the same cause? But Christ would admonish us with regard to the future, "As all thy mistakes arose through not following Me, henceforth, therefore, follow in My steps." You know how often we have stood at the cross-road of life. Shall we go to the right or to the left? And what have we done? Trusted to our own judgment? Leant on the council of friends? Or thrown the reins on the neck of the steed of circumstances and let him guide us whithersoever he will? Or have we sought counsel of the Lord?
(2) "But," you say, "how is a man to know the Lord's will?" Listen: "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." Those who fear Him are those who fear to grieve Him by the slightest deviation from the path He has marked out for them. God does not tell His secrets to everybody, nor do you. But there is such a thing as walking with the Lord so that He may direct our steps. "Shall I hide from Abraham, My friend," &c. Still how? In Isaiah 11:2 it is promised that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon us and make us of a quick understanding — scent or smell, as it is in the margin, just like that hound who can follow the game past this difficulty and that. So with the believer dwelling in close communion with his Lord. You know how the North American Indian can trace the trail of one who has passed through the forest, To us it would be nothing. There is the print of the mocassin upon the tender herb, or a slight displacement of the brushwood, and to the trained eye there is the path that has been trodden. So there is such a thing as having what Paul calls "our senses exercised to discern" — quick of sight to see the way, quick of ear to hear "this is the way, walk ye in it."
2. Gracious encouragement. They were spoken to a man who had been probed and tested. How many misgivings he must have had till this invitation was given! It was like the father encouraging his child to take the leap having first jumped himself, and then on the hither bank saying, "Follow me." Thus Jesus speaks through our doubts and fears. So in regard to work. Never mind what the Mrs. Grundy's say, "Follow Christ."
3. Faithful warning. One of the most striking evidences of Christianity is its honesty. When the recruiting officer goes into the villages he talks of the glories of a soldier's life, of the prospect of promotion, but never of the work in the trenches, the marches under a burning sun, and the agonies of the battlefield. But here comes a new religion seeking to win men and promising them persecution, trial, conflict — nothing concealed. So the Lord says to Peter, "Follow Me, but remember that you will die a martyr's death." The application to us is — Christ does promise us things inestimably dear, but He bids us count the cost. No cross, no crown. "If any man will come after Me," &c.
(W. P. Lockhart.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
WEB: Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don't want to go."