Truly, truly, I say to you, When you were young, you gird yourself, and walked where you would: but when you shall be old…
There is no question so generally discussed as this, and three classes give a wrong answer.
1. Those who maintain that Christianity has injured, rather than benefited, the race. They tell us that it has warped man's judgments, nurtured morbid sentimentality, sectionized society, and served the ends of superstition, priestcraft, and tyranny.
2. Those who maintain that it is one of the many elevating forces at work in society. They tell us that it is generally of service to man in a low stage of civilization; that, like the theories and superstitions of old times, it has its mission, which it will fulfil and then become obsolete, to be left behind as the race advances in intelligence and manly virtue.
3. Those who maintain that it does everything for man. They say that there is nothing good in the world but Christianity — none in nature, science, and the feelings of man without it; and that if a man has it, he needs nothing more. These conflicting sentiments raise the question, "Of what real use is it?" Let us look at this —
I. ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE. This incident suggests —
1. That Christianity does not counteract the natural changes to which man's physical life is subject. "When thou wert young," &c. Peter was a genuine disciple; but, nevertheless, Christ tells him, in effect, that Christianity in his soul would not prevent time wearing out his body, and that age incapacitates a man from executing his volitions. "When thou wert young thou couldst ply the oar, roam the fields, scale the hills; there was energy and flexibility in thy frame, by which thou couldst readily execute thy desires. But when thou shelf be old, although thy will shall be vigorous, thy executive power will be gone." Christianity will not prevent the bloom fading from the cheek, the brightness passing from the eye, the strength dying out of the limb. Christianity neither offers resistance to the regular course of nature, nor any atonement for her violations. This fact shows —
(1) That physical sufferings are no criterion for individual moral states. Some of the best men are the greatest sufferers, and some of the most useful die in the zenith of life.
(2) That Christianity respects the ordinances of nature. However you drink in the spirit of religion, and however consecrated you may be to its service, if you rebel against nature you must suffer.
(3) That if the disciples of Christ would be physically happy, they must attend, like other men, to physical laws. If you are in want of physical comforts, it is of no use for you to sing, "The Lord will provide," and sit down in sloth.
2. That Christianity does not guard a man from the social oppressions of life. It is here foretold that Peter should die of crucifixion. His religion rather exposed him to the malice of men. Christianity teaches that if we will live godly, we must suffer persecution. This fact shows —
(1) That Christianity can do without the favour of the world. It does not authorize the compromise of its principles to gain worldly patronage; but requires us to carry them out in their fulness and force, even against a world in arms.
(2) That Christianity can do without the lives of its most devoted followers, rather than without their fidelity.
3. That Christianity does not solve the speculative problems of life. "Why am I thus to be dealt with? What is to become of John? Is he to be crucified also? or will he live the natural term of life?" To this Jesus replies, "What is that to thee?" There are many pressing questions to which Christianity offers no response but this, and for good reasons.
(1) The encouragement of the sequestions would strengthen the speculative tendency rather than improve the heart. One answer would lead to another question, and so on interminably.
(2) An answer would create emotions which would paralyze moral action. Supposing we knew what would happen to us and ours!
(3) An answer would multiply the forces that divert us from practical godliness.
4. That Christianity does not invest us with an infallible judgment in this life (ver. 23). The disciples fell into a wrong interpretation of the Saviour's meaning. Christianity does clear and strengthen and guide the judgment, but does not render it infallible. If these "brethren" could make this mistake, much more their successors.
II. THE POSITIVE SIDE.
1. The incident suggests that it enlists Christ's interest in the history of His disciples. How do the Gospels display this? and it is now displayed in the prophecy of Peter's future, and his preparation to meet it. Is it nothing to enlist the interest of the Governor of the universe? Nothing that you have the interest of One —
(1) Who knows the whole of the past, present, and future of your inner and outer life?
(2) Who has ample power so to control the events of the outward life, and supply the aspirations of the inward as to crown your existence with perfect blessedness. What thought can be more soul inspiring and uplifting than this?
2. The incident suggests that it brings glory to God in the death of His disciples. It illustrates —
(1) The mercy of God. Visit the death-bed of the genuine disciple; mark the calmness, resignation, and sometimes the triumphant rapture amidst physical anguish. It is mercy that sustains the spirit amidst the mysterious sufferings of dissolution.
(2) The fidelity of God, who has promised to be with His people in the last hour. Is this nothing? To glorify God, to illustrate His perfections, is the end of creation, the duty and supreme aim of the holy in all worlds. Is it nothing for Christianity to enable poor, depraved men to do in death that which is the highest aim of the highest seraph.
3. The incident suggests that it gives a definite unity and attraction to all the duties of His disciples. What theories of human duty ethical sages have pro. pounded. How voluminous legal codes! But Christianity reduces all duties to "Follow thou Me." Christianity presents duty, not in dry propositions, but in a fascinating life. In Christ we see it in the most perfect, attractive, and practicable forms. Is this nothing?
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
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."