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Verse 15

15.When, therefore, they had dined. The Evangelist now relates in what manner Peter was restored to that rank of honor from which he had fallen. That treacherous denial, which has been formerly described, had, undoubtedly, rendered him unworthy of the apostleship; for how could he be capable of instructing others in the faith, who had basely revolted from it? He had been made an Apostle, but it was along with Judas, and from the time when he had abandoned his post, (230) he had likewise been deprived of the honor of apostle-ship. Now, therefore, the liberty, as well as the authority, of teaching is restored to him, both of which he had lost through his own fault. And that the disgrace of his apostacy might not stand in his way, Christ blots out and destroys the remembrance of it. Such a restoration was necessary, both for Peter and for his hearers; for Peter, that he might the more boldly execute his office, being assured of the calling with which Christ had again invested him; for his hearers, that the stain which attached to his person might not be the occasion of despising the Gospel. To us also, in the present day, it is of very great importance, that Peter comes forth to us as a new man, from whom the disgrace that might have lessened his authority has been removed.

Simon (son)of John (231) lovest thou me? By these words Christ means that no man can faithfully serve the Church, and employ himself in feeding the flock, if he do not look higher than to men. First, the office of feeding (232) is in itself laborious and troublesome; since nothing is more difficult than to keep men under the yoke of God, among whom there are many who are weak, others who are wanton and unsteady, others who are dull and sluggish, and others who are slow and unteachable. Satan now brings forward as many causes of offense as he can, that he may destroy or weaken the courage of a good pastor. (233) In addition to this, we must take into account the ingratitude of many and other causes of disgust. No man, therefore, will steadily persevere in the discharge of this office, unless the love of Christ shall reign in his heart, in such a manner that, forgetful of himself and devoting himself entirely to Christ, he overcomes every obstacle. Thus Paul declares this to have been the state of his own feelings, when he says,

The love of Christ constraineth us, judging thus, that if one died for all,
then all must have been dead,
2 Corinthians 5:14.)

For, though he means that love with which Christ hath loved us, and of which he hath given us a proof by his death, yet he connects with us that mutual love which springs from the conviction of having received so great a blessing. Ungodly and false teachers, on the other hand, are pointed out by him in another passage by this mark, that they do not love the Lord Jesus, (1 Corinthians 16:22.)

Those who are called to govern the Church ought, therefore, to remember that, if they are desirous to discharge their office properly and faithfully, they must begin with the love of Christ. Meanwhile, Christ openly testifies how highly he values our salvation, when he employs such earnest and striking language in recommending it to Pastors, and when he declares that, if the salvation of their flock be the object of their earnest solicitude, he will reckon it a proof of the ardor of their love to himself. And, indeed, nothing could have been spoken that was better fitted for encouraging the ministers of the Gospel, than to inform them that no service can be more agreeable to Christ than that which is bestowed on feeding his flock. All believers ought to draw from it no ordinary consolation, when they are taught that they are so dear and so precious in the sight of the Son of God, that he substitutes them, as it were, in his own room. But the same doctrine ought greatly to alarm false teachers, who corrupt and overturn the government of the Church; for Christ, who declares that he is insulted by them, will inflict on them dreadful punishment.

Feed my lambs. The word feed is metaphorically applied by Scripture to any kind of government; but as the present subject is the spiritual government of the Church, it is of importance to observe what are the parts of which the office of pastor or shepherd consists. No idle rank is here described to us, nor does Christ bestow on a mortal man any government to be exercised by him in a confused manner according to his own pleasure. In expounding the Tenth Chapter, we have seen that Christ is the only Pastor or Shepherd of the Church. (234) We have seen also why he takes this name to himself. If, is, because he feeds, that is, he governs his sheep, because he is the only true food of the soul. But because he employs the agency of men in preaching doctrine, he conveys to them also his own name, or, at least, shares it with them. Those men, therefore, are reckoned to be Pastors in the sight of God, who govern the Church by the ministry of the word under Christ, who is their Head. Hence we may easily infer what is the burden which Christ lays on Peter, and on what condition he appoints him to govern his flock.

This enables us plainly to refute the wicked adherents of the Church of Rome, who torture this passage to support the tyranny of their Popery. “To Peter” they tell us, “in preference to others, it is said, Feed my sheep ” We have already explained the reason why it was said to him rather than to the others; namely, that being free from every disgraceful stain, he might boldly preach the Gospel; and the reason why Christ thrice appoints him to be a pastor is, that the three denials, by which Peter had brought on himself everlasting shame, may be set aside, and thus may form no barrier to his apostleship, as has been judiciously observed by Chrysostom, Augustine, and Cyril, and most of the other Commentators. Besides, nothing was given to Peter by these words, that is not also given to all the ministers of the Gospel.

In vain, therefore, do the Papists maintain that he holds the highest rank, because he alone is specially addressed; and, granting that some special honor was conferred on him, how, I ask, will they prove from this that he has been elevated to the primacy? Though he were the chief among the apostles, does it thence follow that he was the universal bishop of the whole world? To this it must be added, that all that Peter received does not belong to the Pope any more than to Mahomet; for on what ground does he claim to be Peter’s heir, and what man of sound understanding will admit that Christ here bestows on him any hereditary right? Yet he wishes to be reckoned Peter’s successor: I wish he were so. None of us hinders him from loving Christ, and from taking care to feed his flock; but to take no concern about loving Christ, and to throw aside the office of feeding, and then to boast of being Peter’s successor, is excessively foolish and absurd. Now, as Christ, in assigning to Peter the duty of teaching, did not intend to erect a throne for an idol or for a murderer of souls, that by means of it he might miserably oppress the Church, so he stated in a few words, what kind of government of the Church he approves. This removes the mask from all the mitred bishops, who, satisfied with a mere theatrical display and an empty title, claim for themselves the authority of bishops.

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