The Bible is surprisingly straightforward about the weaknesses and sins of the people of God. While some who claim to be in the Puritan tradition can tend toward a practical perfectionism, there were many Puritans who noted the weaknesses and falls of the men and women in Scripture as examples of a common Christian experience. Thomas Brooks, in his marvelous work The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, relays a story told by Bernard of Clairvaux: “I have known a good old man,” said Bernard, “who when he had heard of any that had committed some notorious offense was used to saying to himself, ‘He fell today, so may I tomorrow.'”1 Brooks continued, “Now the reason why humble souls do keep up in themselves a holy fear of falling, is, because this is the best means to keep them from falling…Peter presumes and falls, Matt. 26.”2
In his work A Glimpse of Christ, Robert Dingley, commenting on Proverbs 24:16 noted that when Solomon says, “A righteous man may fall seven times and rise again,” he is intimating two things. First, a righteous man may, and often will, fall. The number seven being the number of perfection, he may fall repeatedly. But, secondly, the fact that he falls again after the first time means that he has been restored at some point. You cannot fall unless you are restored and lifted to a place of grace. This gives the wavering Christian great hope. We are not like those who despair. But “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Simon Peter becomes the principle example of this sevenfold falling and restoration. Peter denied Jesus in the hour of His sufferings. Peter was foolishly self-confident in regard to his own spiritual strength when Jesus foretold his denial. Peter opposed God when the Lord told him, in a vision, to kill and eat both clean and unclean animals. It took three times of seeing the same vision before Peter accepted the words of the Lord. Even after seeing this vision, indicating that Gentiles and Jews were both clean in Christ Jesus, Peter still fell into legalism in Galatia and had to be rebuked. This last act was the worst because it regarded the doctrine of the Gospel and it was the error of an apostle of Jesus Christ. If it could happen to Peter, it could happen to me. If it could happen to Peter, it could happen to you. Remember those words, “He fell today, so may I tomorrow.” Even more importantly, remember the words of the apostle Paul, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest hie fall.”
Andrew Peterson put’s the Christian experience so well in his song The Chasing Song, “Well I realize that falling down ain’t graceful, but I thank the Lord that falling’s full of grace; cause sometimes I take my eyes off Jesus and you know that’s all it takes. Well I wish that I could say that at the close of every day, I was happy with the way that I’m behaving… ” We must never become self-confident in our spiritual state. We must beware of pride. “Pride goes before a fall.” The Westminster Divines express this so well in chapter 18.4 of the Confession of Faith. There they note:
True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair.
So let us watch and pray let we enter into temptation, but let us remember that if we are in Christ, when we fall He will sustain us and we will rise again.
1. Thomas Brooks The Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Brooks (London: Printed for L.B. Seeley and Sons, 1824) p. 29
2. Ibid., pp. 29-30