The Wiles of the Devil
The devil has a kind of method and air of modesty in his temptations. He knew that he could not draw from Peter such a blasphemous denial with the first fiery dart of temptation. Peter would have at the first trembled at such a suggestion. And therefore, like a strategic general, he ranks his forces so as that the first temptations, like weaker soldiers, fall and make way for the stronger, which are the old experienced and sturdy fighters. The former temptations serve only to weaken Peter, the latter to overthrow him.
At first the devil tempts us to small sins, to indulge a little of our corrupt desires to wear out some of our vigour. This he does to manipulate our thoughts and causes us to think that we will be able to hold out for the better when the temptation is more robust. But when he has brought us this far with the small sins, he has gotten the advantage of us. Having gotten the door opened he lets in ugly and horrid temptations.
Sin has its several ages and growths. First it is conceived and shaped in the womb of desire, then it is nourished and fed by the embraces of the will, and with this it grows into a strong man and takes over our little world, invading all the faculties of the soul and body, which are at last made the instruments of Satan to act at his will. Satan at the first leads us downward towards hell, by steps and stairs, which, though they go lower and lower, yet seem to have firm footing with the ability to go back when we want. But we find the way more and more slippery and the enemy ready at hand to push us down into the dungeon of unrecoverable misery, if God’s mercy did not pluck us as a brand out of the burning (Zechariah 3:2).
Peter at first only sleeps, which seems only to be the demands of his nature. Then he followed afar off; that may have been excused by the drowsiness of his sleep. Then he sits down at the fire, which may be excused by the coldness of the air. But then came the denying, swearing, cursing, and had not Christ looked at him, the next step in this regression would have been the jaws of hell. But it was the great wisdom and mercy of Christ to acknowledge the estate of ignominy and misery.