Love Before its Judge
John 21:15-17
So when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, love you me more than these? He said to him, Yes…


1. The writer, in continuing his account of what was said and done, goes on to say: "Now, when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith," &c. Here we have a most interesting note of time. It was delicately characteristic of Jesus to see that all were strengthened and quieted before the questioning. No one who had not been present would have shown the sense of mingled homeliness and solemnity which this verse shows. When we read, "When Jesus sat thus on the well," we say these two lines are by the same writer.

2. This question is a question to a believer. Faith goes before love. It is impossible to love one whom you do not even trust. Perhaps Christians have put you wrong by their unscientific way of telling you that all you have to do is "to give your hearts to Christ"; but you have no heart to give to Him, until by faith you receive the heart He gives to you. Believing is receiving; and when the love of Christ is received, the recipient loves Him back again.

3. This question reminds us that the great test of faith is love. "Faith worketh by love." Sometimes faith and love are practically so much alike that we can hardly distinguish them. Talk to that true teacher of theology, a Christian child, and, while perhaps she will not say a word about faith, she will be sure to tell you that she "loves Jesus." "Wrong!" says a hard old doctrinist, "we are justified by faith." "Right!" say we; "for in the consciousness of that little heart love and faith are one." A man may be true to Christ, yet if Christ were to say, "Understandest thou Me?" or "Followest thou Me?" or, "Confessest thou Me?" he could not always establish the fact of his discipleship. There is, however, no Christian heart but quivers to the question, "Lovest thou Me?" We set our seal to Wesley's words, "We may die content without the knowledge of many truths, but if we die without love, would the knowledge of many truths avail us? Just as much as it would the devil. I will not quarrel with you about your opinions... only see that you love the Lord Jesus Christ."

4. This question was asked in the spirit of reproof. There was reproof —

(1) In the very appellative, "Simon, son of Jonas," and the sound of it must have struck upon him like a bolt of ice, making his burning soul suddenly freeze. On the day of his introduction to Christ, it was predicted that he should be called "Peter" — that is, a stone. This prophecy was fulfilled on the day of his memorable confession. It is written of a certain caliph, that he used to give each of his principal officers an honourable surname suited to his qualities; and that, when he wished to show dissatisfaction, he used to drop it, calling him by his original name, which caused great alarm. This helps us to enter into the meaning of the Simon, son of Jonas, here. The startled disciple might have thought that this was as much as to say, "Thou hast nothing in thee answering to the name 'Rock'; a rock does not run away, and does not ebb and flow; thou art not worthy of thy new name; until thou art cleared in this court, give it up."(2) In the reference to the other disciples — "More than these." But how did they prove their love? By language? No; for they were dumb. By obedience? No; for when the Master said, "Bring of the fish that ye have caught," they stood stock still, gazing. By work? No; they could not even haul the net up the strand; Simon did it. While a thought of satisfaction in the comparison of himself with them might have shot across his mind, the question sternly broke in upon it, "Lovest thou Me more than these?"(3) In the plain allusion to his boastful speech, "If all shall be offended," &c. "Now, Simon, what do you say?"

5. In reference to his most recent action. On the night before the Crucifixion, Jesus had said, "Simon, Satan asked to have you... when once thou hast turned again, stablish thy brethren." Had he done so? Not if we have correctly interpreted the words, "I go a fishing; we also go with thee." He did wrong, and by his super-abundant vitality and eager life drew the others along with him; and this was not to establish his brethren. It was "a threefold hammer-stroke," and had reference to his threefold sin of denial.

6. Think of the question in connection with the greatness of the questioner. Love to God is set forth in the "first and greatest commandment." Christ claims the very same, "He that loveth father and mother more than Me," &c. What John thought of Christ's greatness appears from the words at the opening of his Gospel, which pulse all through the succeeding narrative; the writer does not once forget this, nor must the reader, any more than the singer must forget his key-note, or the builder that which he builds upon.

7. Think of the question in connection with Christ's love to the disciple to whom He puts it. His love is great, because He Himself is great. As the ocean holds more water than the tiny lakelet, has more force, carries more weight, and can be wrought up into a grander storm, so does the heart of God hold more than the heart of man.

8. Notice the personality of the question. He deals with us one by one lovingly, each soul with a distinct love; asking each soul for a distinct response; to each speaks personally as when He said, "Adam, where art thou?" "Abraham, Abraham!" "Samuel, Samuel!" "Martha, Martha!" "Saul, Saul!" "Simon, son of Jonas." English names are on His lips as well as Jewish names; answer to your name — it is spoken now — silently to the ear, audibly to the soul — "Lovest thou Me?"


1. It was an answer given after deep searchings of heart.

(1) The Searcher of hearts had so ordered the process of questioning as to compel this. The first sentence of it slashed right through the conscience just where it had been last wounded, and where it was still on fire. "Lovest thou Me more than these?" What does he answer? does he simply say, "Yes I do"? No! for the word for love which Christ employs is beyond him. Does he say no? No! Does he take up the challenge of comparison? No! never again. He is now done for ever with heroics, comparisons, consequential airs. Does he say out from black despondency, "I have been a self-deceiver, and what I thought was love was not love"? No! Was he silent? No! speak he must. He therefore looks up, and, with tumultuous throbs, whispers, "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest Thou art dear to me."(2) The searching eye is still upon him; still using the same word for love which Simon had humbly put aside for a weaker word, and giving this word greater emphasis, the Judge repeats the question. Six months before, Simon would have been ready to say, "Lord, dost Thou doubt me? Love Thee? Only try me! See if I will not gladly die for Thee!" But now, not daring to own such a lofty love as Christ's word indicates, he still says, "Thou art dear to me."(3) Then the King of Grace comes down to him, accepts the humble word that Simon had chosen, and asks, "Am I dear to thee?" In the lightning of that instant, he looked round for something to which he should make his appeal in proof of the sincerity with which he could say this; and to what could he make it? Poor man! he thought just then, that if he looked to himself for a proof of his love, he could find little better than lies, and oaths, and treachery. With tears in his heart, in his tones, if not in his eyes, he burst out, "Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that Thou art dear to me!" Could any of us settle this question by an appeal to ourselves? Have we been satisfactory disciples? For all that, many a man, who is forced to answer "No," may add, "Jesus, I am sure that I love Thee. Oh, see Thyself if I do not!" How does your child prove his love to you? Does he not sometimes give you trouble? Does his face never redden with sullen temper or with passionate flash? And are not these signals contradictory of love? They may seem so, yet when the proud little heart seems to be full of rebellion, the young rebel wishes you could but see into it. He is quite unable to prove it from facts, but he knows that he loves you, and you know it. Sometimes we have no proofs to give in verification of our love to God. The love is in our heart, but it is possible to be known, not by its doings, but by itself; and the love itself only God can see.

2. The question had to be answered, not verbally alone, but practically. Where there is love, there will be the ministry of love. This ministry is work for souls before conversion and after it. The first is described under a metaphor taken from the vocation of a fisherman, the other from that of a shepherd. When souls are drawn out from the sea of spiritual death, and "captured for their life," the metaphor of "fishing" breaks down: and the metaphor of "shepherding" is substituted.

3. Such an answer as that of Peter may include in its consequences much that will go against natural inclination (ver. 18). This oracle darkly told of coming events that would strike at all his natural loves and likings. He liked the free, impetuous joy of living. He was to be "bound." He liked to take the lead. He was to "be carried," he liked to have his own will; he was to be carried "whither he would not." He liked the glory of heroism: he was to die on a cross. He liked rapidity of movement: he was to plod on to old age without the promise of a brilliant career. Before a man's life can fully answer the question, "Lovest thou Me?" he must be ready to give up his own choice as to the way of showing it, and passively accept or actively obey the will of God alone.

4. A disciple is to make the answer to this question the one great business of his life (vers. 20, 21). A Christian may prosecute endless questions into the mysteries around him; and while he does so in season, with due regard to proportion and perspective, taking care to subordinate each to its own place in relation to the one great question. Christ will not say of any such thing, "What is that to thee?" There was, however, a reason why His rejoinder to this question should have in it something of the nature of a reprimand. Some sin, or dangerous infirmity, must have been waking up. Jesus, therefore, instead of answering him, said, "What is that to thee?" and repeated His charge, "Follow thou Me." placing emphasis on the word thou. "Mind your own business; put all your soul into it; this is as much as you can do." As it was with Peter then, so it may be with you now. You may be at a crisis and in a condition making it perilous to have your attention divided by, the most fascinating subject that lies outside the soul's great business; and Christ may be saying, with reference to what is most exciting your speculative interest, "What is that to thee? Follow thou Me."

(C. Stanford, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

WEB: So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs."

Love a Good Augury
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