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What Was Become of Peter?

A Sermon by C. H. Spurgeon
From the August 1873 Sword and Trowel


Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.—Acts 12:18.

WE CAN VERY WELL UNDERSTAND that there would be great excitement. It was the most improbable thing in the world that Peter should escape from custody. In the innermost dungeon, securely chained, watched by a fourfold guard, with no powerful friends outside to attempt a rescue—it was marvellous that in the morning the bird was flown: the prison doors were closed and the guards in their places, but Peter—where was he? We marvel not that "there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter"?
    We will use this striking narrative as an illustration—what if we make it into an allegory? The sinner fast bound in his sin is, by the mercy of God, set free, brought out from his spiritual prison into the streets of the New Jerusalem, and then there is no small stir among his old companions, what has become of him. Many questions are asked, and many strange answers are given. They cannot understand it. The vain world esteems it strange: much it admires, but hates the change. The carnal mind cannot understand conversion. There is "no small stir, what has become of Peter."
    We shall, first of all, dwell a little upon the escape of Peter, as illustrating the salvation of certain sinners; then upon the consequent stir about it, and then upon the quiet conduct of the man who is the object of all this stir,—"What has become of Peter"
    I. First, then, THE IMPROBABLE EVENT. Peter was in prison. It was a most unlikely thing that he should come forth from Herod's gaol, but it is a far more unlikely thing that sinners should be set free from the dungeons of sin. For the iron gate which opened into the city to turn upon its hinges of its own accord was wonderful; but for a sinful heart to loathe its sin is stranger far. Who can escape from the grasp of sin? No person is more straitly shut up than is the sinner in the prison-house of original depravity; it is not around us merely, but in us, compassing our path, whether we lie down or rise up. Stronger than granite walls and bars of iron are the forces of evil. Evil has penetrated our souls, it has become part of ourselves. Whither shall we fly from its presence? or how shall we escape from its power? Vain are the wings of the morning; they cannot enable us to fly from our own selves.
    O, marvellous thing, that the Ethiopian should escape from his blackness, and the leopard from his spots! There are some men in whom evil is more than ordinarily conspicuous. They have done violence to conscience; they have quenched, as far as possible, the inner light; they have defied the customs of society; they have resolved to sin at random, and they do so. What a miracle it is that such as these should be emancipated from the slavery they choose so eagerly; that these, who are set fast in the stocks of vice, in the innermost dungeon of transgression, should ever be set at liberty! And yet how often this has happened! The foundations of the prison have been shaken, and every one's bands have been loosed. The saints of God can, all of them, bless him for liberty from sin; "the snare is broken and they are escaped"! Ay, and many of them can praise him for deliverance from very great sins, black sins, iron sins, sins which had entered into their souls and held their spirits captive. No man can set another man free from iniquity, nor can any man burst down his own prison-doors: no Samson is strong enough for that; but there is One, "mighty to save," who has come to proclaim liberty to the captives of sin, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound by iniquity, and he has so proclaimed it that many of us are now free through his grace. O that many others now shut up in the spiritual Bastille may be set free!
    But, besides being in prison, Peter was in the dark. All the lamps had been quenched for the night in his miserable place of confinement. Such is the estate, spiritually, of every unconverted sinner, he is in the dark; he does not know Christ, nor apprehend his own condition, nor comprehend eternal realities. What a state of darkness is he in who has never heard the gospel! But alas! there are some who have heard it, often heard it, and yet their eyes are holden so that they cannot see the light, and they are as badly in the dark as those upon whom the lamp has never shone. Does it not seem impossible to convert such darkened ones? You have held up, as it were, the very sun in the heavens before their eye-balls, while you have preached salvation by Christ, and yet so blind are they that they have seen nothing! Can these blind eyes see? Can these prisoners of midnight escape from the prison through its long corridors and winding passages? The thousands in this city who never attend the house of prayer,—is it possible ever to get at them? Can the grace of God ever come to them? Yes, we bless God that, as the angel came into Peter's prison and brought a light with him, so the Spirit can come into the prison of man's sin and bring heavenly illumination with him, and then he will see, in a moment, the truth as it is in Jesus, which he never knew before. Glory be to God, he can lead the blinded mind into daylight, and give it eyes to see and a heart to love the truth divine. We can testify of this, for so hath God wrought upon us, and why should he not thus work upon others; but it is a great marvel, and, when it is performed, there is "no small stir."
    Peter's case, in the third place, had another mark of hopelessness about it. He was in prison; he was in the dark; and he was asleep. How can you lead a man out of prison who is sound asleep? If you cannot enter and arouse him, what can you do for him? Suppose the doors were opened and the chains were snapped, yet if he remained asleep how could he escape? We find that the angel smote Peter on the side. I dare say it was a hard blow, but it was a kind one. Oh, how I wish the Spirit of God would smite some sleeping sinner on the side at this moment! I would not mind how sharp or cutting the blow might be for the time being, if it made him start up, and say, "How can I escape from this dreadful cell of sin?" My brethren, how difficult it is to arouse some minds from their indifference. The most indifferent people in this world are those who have prospered in business for a long time without a break; they are accumulating money as fast as they can count it, and they have not time to think about eternal things. Another very hardened class consists of those who have enjoyed good health for a long time, and have scarcely known an ache or a pain. They do not think about eternity. It is a great blessing to enjoy health, but it is also a great blessing to suffer sickness, for it is often the means of awakening the slumbering heart, Many dream that because things go smoothly with them they are all right; and yet they are peculiarly in danger. O Spirit of the living God, smite them on the side! I have known this smiting come to some by a sermon, to others by the personal remark of a friend, to others by the death of a companion, or by the loss of a dear child, or by great trouble and want. Well, if your souls are saved, you will not in after days be sorry for the awakening trouble which helped to bring you to the Savior. Yes, the most indifferent have been awakened; and why should it not be so again? The church prayed for Peter, and those prayers brought the angel to awaken him; let us pray far indifferent sons and careless daughters; let us pray for the godless, Christless population around us, and God's Spirit will yet arouse them. and make them cry with a bitter cry, "Lord save us, or we perish!"
    There was further difficulty about Peter's case. He was in the prison, in the dark, asleep, and he was also chained. Each hand was fastened to a soldier's hand. How could he possibly escape? And herein is the difficulty with some sinners, they cannot leave their old companions. Suppose the gay young man should propose to think about religion? Why, this very night he would be ridiculed for it. Suppose he endeavored to walk in the ways of holiness, is there not chained to his left hand an unholy companion? It may be some unchaste connection has been made; how shall he break away? Let a man be joined to an ungodly woman, or let a woman have once given up herself to an unholy alliance, and how hard it is to set them free! Yet, Peter did come out of prison, though he was chained to his guards; and Christ can save a sinner though he is bound hand and foot by his intimate association with other sinners as bad as himself. It seems impossible that he should be set at liberty; but nothing is impossible with God. There may be some here who have had to snap many an old connection, and get rid of many an evil association; but by divine grace it has been done. We give God the glory of it, and do not wonder at the "stir" which it has made.
    In addition to all this, Peter was not only chained, but he was guarded by soldiers placed outside the prison. And, oh, how some sinners God means to bless are similarly guarded! The devil seems to have an inkling that God will save them one day, and therefore he watches them: fearful lest by any means they should escape out of his hands, he guards them day and night. When men receive a tender conscience, or have their minds a little aroused, Satan will not trust them to enter the house of prayer; or if they do come, he comes with them, and distracts their attention by vain thoughts or fierce temptations; or if they are able to hear the sermon attentively, he will meet them outside and try to steal away the good seed from their hearts. He will assail the man with temptation here and temptation there; he will assault him through some chosen instrument, and then again by another messenger of a like character, if by any means he may keep him from being saved. But when the Lord means to save, he makes short work of the guards, the prison, the darkness, the chains, the devil and all his allies. If the Lord means to save you, man, whoever you are, he will overcome your old master and his guards; the Lord's eternal will shall assuredly overcome your will and the will of Satan, and the lusts of the flesh, and your own resolves, and, although you may have made a league with death and a covenant with hell, yet if the eternal Jehovah wills it, he can break your covenant and set you free, and lead you a captive at the wheels of his chariot of mercy; for with God nothing is impossible.
    Once more, Peter was, in addition to all this, on the eve of death. It was his last night, the night before his execution. It is a very sweet thing to think of Peter sleeping. It reminds one of the saint whom we read of in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. When the gaoler's wife came in the morning to call him up, he was so sweetly asleep that she had to shake him to arouse him. It was a strange thing to disturb a man and say, "It is time to get up and be burnt!" But he slept as sweetly as though he should be married that morning instead of meeting a cruel death. God can give his people the greatest peace in the most disturbing times. So Peter slept. But that is not the point I wish to dwell upon. The next morning he was to die; but God would not have him die. Perhaps some one who hears or reads these words is despairing,—so despairing that he is ready to lay violent hands upon himself; or perhaps there is one so sick that if the Lord does not appear very soon it will be too late. Blessed be God, he never leaves his elect to perish in sin. He never is before his time, but he never is behind it. He cometh in at the last moment, and when it seems as though eternal destruction would swallow up his chosen one, he stretches out his hand and achieves his purpose. May this remark be a message from God to someone. Though you have gone far in sin and are near your end, yet the Lord, who can do anything and everything, may come to you and save you even now, at the eleventh hour, and then there will be a "stir" indeed.
    We have thus remarked upon a whole series of improbabilities, but I have noticed that it is often the most unlikely people who are saved. There are many of whom I thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is before me," and I have been disappointed in them; and there are many others who came to hear out of curiosity, and were the least likely to be impressed, who nevertheless have been met with by sovereign grace. Does not this encourage you to say, "Why should not the Lord meet with me?" Ah, dear soul, why not? And, what is more, he will regard thee if thou listenest to this word of his, "Whosoever believeth on the Lord,Jesus Christ hath everlasting life." To believe in Jesus Christ is simply to trust. Trust him; for if thou dost trust thy guilty soul entirely on Jesus, he has met with thee, thou art saved, now. Go and sin no more; thy sins which are many are forgiven thee! That is salvation in a nut-shell. Whosoever reposes his trust in Jesus is saved. God grant such faith to you!
    II. Secondly, in consequence of this great event, THERE WAS NO small STIR, what was become of Peter. When the Lord saves an unlikely individual, there is sure to be a stir about it.
    The text says, "There was no small stir among the soldiers." So, generally, the stir about a sinner begins among his old companions. "What has become of Peter? I thought he would have met us to-night at our drinking bout. What has become of Peter? We were going to the theater together. What has become of Peter? We intended to have a jolly time of it at the horse races. What has become of Peter? We had agreed to go to the dancing saloon together!" Those who were his old companions say, "We did not believe he would ever have been made religious. He'll never make a saint! We'll fetch him back. He has got among those canting Methodists, but we'll make it too hot for him. We will jest at him and jeer at him till he can't stand it, and if that does not do, we will threaten him, cast doubts on his creed, and set fresh temptations before him." Ah! but if God has set him free from sin, he is free indeed, and you will never lead him back to prison again. When you meet him, you will find him a new man, and you will be glad to get away from him again; for he will prove too strong for you. Often when a man's conversion is thorough, not only is he rejoiced to get away from his old companions, but his old companions are wonderfully glad to keep clear of him. They do not like the manner of him. He is so strange a man to what he was before. They say, "What has become of Peter? His ways are not ours. What has happened to him?" If a dog were suddenly turned into an angel, the other dogs would be puzzled, the whole kennel would take to howling at him.
    But after the soldiers came Herod. Herod wondered, "What has become of Peter? Did not I put sixteen men to guard him? Did I not provide heavy chains for his feet? Did I not chain him wrist to wrist to a soldier? Did I not put him in the innermost ward of the prison? What has become of Peter?" Herod grew very wroth. He was delighted to have killed James, and he meant to have killed Peter, and therefore he cried, in great chagrin, "What has become of Peter?" What a sight it would be to see the Devil when he has lost some chosen sinner,—when he hears the man who once could swear beginning to pray!—when he beholds the heart that once was hard as adamant beginning to melt! I think I hear him say to himself, "What has become of Peter? Another of my servants has deserted me! Another of my choice followers has yielded to my foe! What, has Christ taken another lamb from between the jaws of the lion? Will he leave me none? Shall I have no soldiers? Shall none of my black-guard be left to me? Am I to be entirely deserted? What has become of Peter?" Oh, it is a glorious thing to cause a howling through the infernal regions, and to set devils biting their tongues because poor sinners have snapped their chains. Pray that as the prayers of the church set Peter free and made Herod angry, so the prayers of the church may set sinners free and put the Devil to shame.
    But we must not forget the Jews. They had expected to see Peter die, and when they found that they would have to eat the Passover with the bitter herb of Peter's escape from prison, they began to say to one another, "What has become of Peter?" They could not understand his escape. Many in these days are like the Jews. They are outsiders; they do not associate with sinners in their grosser vices, but they look on. Whenever they hear of a man converted, if he be indeed really changed, they say, "What has come to him? We don't understand him!" They put him down as a fanatical fool. Their maxim is, that if you like to go to a place of worship, all well and good, and if you like to have a religion, all well and good, but don't make a fuss about it; don't get carried off your legs by it; keep it to yourself, and be quiet over it. They think that to be lukewarm is the finest condition of mind; whereas the Savior has said, "Because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." When a man becomes genuinely converted, especially if he has been a notorious sinner, these irreligious religious people cry out, "What has become of Peter?" The Lord grant there may be much of this outcry!
    And surely, also, there was no small stir amongst God's own people. "There was a great stir in that prayer-meeting when Rhoda went back and said, "There's Peter at the gate! "Never, never!" "But I know his voice, He has been here many times; I can't be mistaken." "Ah," said one, "it, may be his ghost: it can't be Peter himself. It is impossible. So, sometimes, when a sinner who has been very notorious has been converted, after he has been the subject of many prayers, God's people will say, "What, that man converted! It cannot be." When Paul, who had persecuted the church, was brought to be a Christian, it was very hard to make the disciples believe it. They had heard by many of this man, and how he had put the saints to death; surely he could not have become a disciple! There was no small stir what was become of Paul in those days. Christians could hardly think his conversion true. I pray the Lord in these times to convert some very terrible opposer of his gospel, some notorious enemy of the truth. I pray that some of those great philosophers of this learned age, who are always startling us with new absurdities, may be made to feel the power of the sovereign grace of God. I do not know why they should not. Let us pray for it, and it will come to pass. Let us ask the Lord to save even those who brandish their silly learning in the face of the eternal wisdom, and they may yet be brought down to sit humbly at the Savior's feet, and then there will be no small stir in the church, "What has become of Professor this and that?" O Master, for thine own glory's sake grant that it may be done.
    III. The last point is this: THE QUIET CONDUCT OF THE MAN about whom there was all this stir. What had become of Peter? He was out of prison, Where was he? I will tell you. In the first place he had gone to a prayer-meeting. It is a very good sign that a man has been really awakened when he goes uninvited to a prayer-meeting. I love to see a stranger come stealing in, and sit in a corner, where God's people are met for supplication. Any hypocrite will come to worship on a Sunday, but it is not every hypocrite who will come to the meeting for prayer. Anybody will come to listen to a sermon, but it is not everybody that will draw near to God. Surely when the prayer-meeting comes to be loved, it is a good and hopeful evidence. What is become of Peter? He is not at the gin-palace. What has become of Peter? He is not at the races. What has become of Peter? He is not with his old associates at the skittle ground. No, but he is drawing near to God, where a humble band are crying to the Most High for a blessing.
    The next thing was, he joined the Christians. I do not say that Peter had not done so before; but on this occasion he went to where the Christians were, and sat down with them. So that sinner whom God sets free from sin straightway flies to his own company. "Birds of a feather flock together," and those who bear the true feather of the white dove, and have been washed in Christ's blood, "fly as a cloud, and like doves to their windows." You do not love Christ if you do not love his people. If you love the Lord who has saved you, you will love the people whom the Lord has saved, and you will, like Peter, find out your brethren, and join with them. See then, you who have been making a stir about what has become of Peter: we have told you where he is. He has joined the church of God, he is going to be baptized, and he is following Christ through evil report and good report. What say you to that?
    I will tell you yet further what has become of Peter. He has begun to tell his experience at a church-meeting. Peter did that very soon. He beckoned with his hand, and told them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. What a delight it is to see a man, who was just now black in the mouth with blasphemy, stand up and bless the Lord for what his grace has done for him. "I should think it strange," says one, "if that ever happened to me." My dear hearer, I should not think it strange, but should bless God for it. God grant it may happen, and that I may hear of it. No experience in the world is so sweet as that of a sinner who has been in captivity to evil, and has been brought out with a high hand and an outstretched arm. An uncommon sinner who has been remarkably converted tells a more than ordinarily encouraging story in our church-meetings, and we delight in such glad tidings. That is what has become of Peter.
    And then, lastly, it was not long before Peter was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And oh! you who have been wondering what has become of some ungodly companions of yours, I should not be surprised if you hear them telling others what God has done for their souls. I should like to have heard John Newton's first sermon after he had been a slave-dealer, with his life full of all manner of villainy, and God had met with him in mercy. Oh, it must have been a sweet sermon, wet with tears. I will be bound to say there were no sleepy hearers. He would talk in a way that would melt others' hearts, because his own was melted. I should like to have heard John Bunyan, though under a hedge, preaching the Gospel of Jesus, while he told what God had done for a drunken tinker, and how he had washed him in the precious blood of Jesus and saved him. Those who know what sin is, and what the Savior has saved them from, can speak with demonstration of the Spirit, and with power. Peter could say, "I was in prison but I gained my liberty. It was the gift and work of God." He could bear good testimony to what God had done.
    I hold up the blood-red standard at this time: I am a recruiting sergeant, and want in God's name to enlist fresh soldiers beneath the standard of the cross. "Whom will you enlist?" says one. "What must their characters be?" They must be guilty. I wilt have nothing to do with the righteous. The Savior did not come to save those who are not sinful; he came to save sinners. I looked out of my window last winter, when it had been raining for several months almost incessantly, and I saw a man with a garden-hose watering plants, and I looked at him again and again, and to this moment I cannot understand what he was at: it did seem to me an extraordinary thing that a man should be watering a garden when the garden had been watered by the rain for a hundred days or so with scarcely a pause. Now, I am not going to water you who are already dripping with your own self-righteousness. Nay, nay, what need have you of grace? Christ did not come to save you good people. You must get to heaven how you can, on your own account. He has come to wash the filthy and heal the sick. And oh, ye filthy ones, before you I hold up the Gospel banner, and say again, "Who will enlist beneath it?" The great Captain of salvation will take your guilt away, and cast your sins into the depths of the sea, and make you new creatures through his power.
    "Well," says one, "if I am enlisted and become a new creature, what shall I do?" I will not say 'what you shall do, but, if the Lord saves you, you will love him so much that nothing will be too hard, or heavy, or difficult for you. You will not need driving, if you once receive his great salvation; you will be for doing more than you can, and you will pray for more grace and strength to attempt yet greater things for his name's sake. A man who has had much forgiven, what will he not attempt for the service and glory of him who has forgiven him! May I be fortunate enough to enlist beneath the Savior's banner some black offender. That is the man—that is the man for Christ's money. That is the man who will sound out his name more sweetly than anybody else. That is the man who will be afraid of no one. That is the man who will know the power of the Gospel of Christ to a demonstration. Oh that the Lord would bring such among us, for we want them in these days—men who will come right out, without doubt, fear, or quibbling, facing all criticisms, defying all opinions, and saying, "Sinners, Christ can save you, for he saved me. I was a drunkard and a thief, but God has forgiven, and cleansed, and washed me, and I know the power of his salvation." Pray, members of the Church, that both among men and women there may be many such conversions, and that throughout this City of London there may be no small stir "What is become of Peter," and may that stir be to the praise and glory of God.—Amen.

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