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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Luke 5

 

 

Verse 1

ON HEARING SERMONS

‘The people pressed upon Him to hear the word of God.’

Luke 5:1

This eagerness of the people to hear Christ is full of instruction, and both of encouragement and caution to all in every age who preach and who hear the Word of Grace.

I. Motive.—Some desired to hear Christ from mixed and even unworthy motives; some came from curiosity, impelled by the desire of knowing something new; some came for bread, or for healing, or for some other form of temporal aid; some came to cavil, to catch Him in His words, to betray Him. But some came to hear Christ because their hearts felt the charm of His words and the Divine power of His message. Still does the Divine Word prove its power by drawing the hearts of men unto itself.

II. Method.—To hear it profitably men must listen to it—

(a) With reverence, as to a word higher than that of man.

(b) With attention, as to what is of vital interest and concern.

(c) With candour, as prepared to weigh all that is said, although it may be opposed to their prejudices.

(d) With prayer, that the Spirit may accompany the message to the heart.

(e) With frequency, as remembering that not one lesson, not many lessons, can exhaust the riches of heavenly truth.

III. Purpose.—The purpose for which the Word of God should be heard is essentially spiritual.

(a) To appropriate it in faith. They truly hear who truly believe.

(b) To obey it with cheerfulness and diligence. ‘Blessed are they who hear the word of God, and do it!’

Illustrations

(1) ‘Speaking of the plain of Gennesareth, Josephus says: “One may call this place the ambition of Nature, where it forces those plants that are naturally enemies to one another to agree together; it is a happy contention of the seasons, as if each of them laid claim to this country, for it not only nourishes different sorts of autumnal fruits beyond men’s expectation, but preserves them a great while. It supplies men with the principal fruits, grapes and figs, continually during ten months of the year, and the rest of the fruits as they ripen together throughout the whole year.”’

(2) ‘It was no brilliant lecturer, no mere fascinating improviser that gathered that eager throng. Imperfectly as He may have been understood to the full extent of His teaching, all felt that He was a teacher of quite another order from any they had ever known. It was nothing less than the Word of God that men crowded to hear from the lips of Christ; and the craving which drew men after Him then was one which has never passed away; it still works mightily in human hearts; now, as of old, through many an avenue of approach, men are pressing upon Him for satisfaction of that self-same craving; and the time is assuredly coming, notwithstanding adverse signs, when the pressure shall be more intense yet—nay, when the words once whispered in hatred and alarm, shall be literally true: “Behold! the world is gone after Him.”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE MODERN SERMON

The text serves to suggest thoughts af a general kind.

I. It opens up the whole question of religious appeal and Christian preaching.—What is there, we may ask, in common between the eagerness with which men pressed of old upon Christ Himself, and that with which they will flock to listen to the teacher who preaches about Christ? Doubtless the disparity is great, indeed, between the teaching of the Divine Master and that of the worthiest individual who bears His commission. Yet what men seek to gather from the imperfect utterances of His ministers is what they sought from Him—it is the Word of God.

II. Another consideration is that preaching, in the original sense of the word, is a thing now unknown in Christian lands.—To preach in the language of the New Testament means to proclaim Christ as a Saviour to those who never before heard of Him. The modern sermon is a new means of grace. It is one that has grown up in the Church of Christ in answer to the instinctive demands of believers; it is to satisfy the need which every Christian feels of having the chords continually touched which link Divine truth to his common life. For more than a generation the demand for sermons has been steadily growing. The people have truly pressed upon’ the ministers of the Gospel ‘to hear the word of God.’ It is a great mistake to imagine that the clergy have invented this want. It is the people who call for sermons, and their ministers with revived zeal have set themselves to meet the demand; notwithstanding charges of dulness, sameness, and emptiness which have been levelled against preachers, the clergy know full well that the omission of the sermon would be generally regarded as a loss. It should be remembered that preaching must, for the most part, be all that it is sometimes censured for being, commonplace and repetition. The preacher may, and should, exercise his skill in clothing his great message with freshness, and in diversifying the application of truth; to bring out of his treasure ‘things new and old’; to face the intellectual difficulties, the moral perils, the social problems of his time; but for all that, one theme alone must be paramount—he has to preach Christ in all His fullness, and to bring the ‘mind of Christ’ to bear to consecrate the present, and to keep supreme the interests of the soul, to point ever to that unseen world to which it belongs, and for which it is to prepare.

III. But what is it that gives to preaching its attractiveness still in a day when there are so many influences at work which tend to discredit and invalidate it? Is it not because there is that in the individual hearer which must always contribute to the effect of a sermon? Every hearer has a history of his own. Many can testify that the sermons which have helped them have not been those which a mere critic would have pronounced remarkable; indeed, the preacher’s words may have been lost upon the majority of his congregation, and yet some hearts there, whose soil God has prepared, at some critical point in their life’s history, perhaps, have heard words which just met the sorrow or the doubt or the fear which held possession of them. No wonder, if those who have gone through such an experience, believe it possible, even through the weak and faltering utterances of man, to hear the very Word of God.

—Rev. Canon Duckworth.

Illustration

‘The vision must precede the message, and the message declare the vision. The age calls for preachers who are seers, men who with pure hearts see God, who “behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” who discern “the signs of the times,” who with anointed eyes see under the surface of things, and with open vision watch the movements of men in the light of the Incarnate Christ. The age calls for preachers who are prophets as well as seers. Men who speak what they know, and testify what they have seen, whose preaching may not be with enticing words of men’s wisdom, but is in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, who will not hesitate to declare the whole counsel of God, and who scorn to apologise for preaching the full Gospel of Christ. The general reinstatement of preaching as a Divine institution suited to modern needs would issue in a widespread readjustment of the Church to the age. The people will always come to hear, if only the clergy have always something worth hearing to say. The Gospel of Christ is still the power of God unto salvation, and still the cry is heard, “What must I do to be saved?”’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

CONCENTRATIVE CHRISTIANITY

The text tells us that the people ‘pressed’ to listen to the gracious words of Christ. It tells little of their motives.

I. Those of our time, too, can press to hear the Word of God. Of diffusive religion we have abundance; a concentrative Christianity is what we require. And to believe it—to commune with our own hearts and be still—is the finest preparative for external usefulness.

II. There are two ways in which the revelation of the will of God through Christ may be presented to our minds.

(a) We may know it as a mass of doctrines and commands offered to our acceptance as beings possessed of reasonable faculties, and demanding from our understandings a simple assent to these truths.

(b) We may know it in such a sense and degree as that it becomes the prevailing principle of all our actions and the presiding director of our inmost thoughts, the soul of our souls, the fountain of our moral being, the central force of the whole system of life and conduct. To which of these classes does our acquaintance with the Word of God belong?

Illustration

‘Archbishop Davidson in his Visitation Charge has a telling passage on preaching. “If it be,” he says, “that we are enabled by painstaking study and elaborate preparation and care to produce that which will be pointed and pithy, and make itself felt as a direct message from God to the human soul, in ten minutes, then be it so, and thank God. But if it be merely that we think people are pleased and satisfied now with the ten minutes rather than with the little longer time which used to be more customary; if God’s people so like it that therefore we can do with it, and say a few words, as it is called, leaving the big thought of the responsibility of the teacher to God and his fellow-men to be discharged in a lighter way than before, then surely we are missing some of the very largest part of the trust which God has laid upon us in a day when education is wider and our own reading ought to be more deep and thorough. Facilities for obtaining knowledge are taken advantage of by everybody, and people who are preaching should now utter words worth hearing, because the result of elaborate and painstaking care.”’


Verse 3

CHRIST’S WORK IN THE WORLD

‘He entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s.’

Luke 5:3

The Lord Jesus used the instruments of His Apostles. He went into Simon’s boat; He used Simon’s boat and tackle and nets. That is ever His way.

I. Christ used the instruments of His people.—And that is why we say to you, do not ignore the instruments of religion in your religion. If you do, you will fail. Use the Sacraments, use all ministry. If the Lord makes use of them, cannot His people make use of them? I know you will say: ‘We might go out into the fields and worship God just as well as going to church.’ Ah! no, you could not. You would be lonely out in the fields. You want the sympathy of life. You want the Lord’s own trysting-place, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.’ You cannot get over that. You are human, and must make use of the instruments that Christ has ordained and made use of Himself.

II. Man can supply the instruments.—The boat, the net, and the tackle belonged to Simon. So that the lesson we learn is that the instruments our Lord would use are also the instruments that we ourselves can supply. Do not for one moment say that you have not got opportunities and powers and faculties. That is what people always say. You hear men say, ‘I should not like to tackle that question.’ Men have got plenty of tackle to tackle the question, but they are too intellectually ignorant to find their way with faith into certainty of belief. Again people often say, ‘I should not like to tackle that man or that woman and bring them to Christ, because I have not got the tackle to do the tackling with.’ And why? They have no faith in themselves or in their Saviour. For here comes the truth, that all these instruments in themselves will not do it.

III. But Christ must be with you.—And what is the thing to do? Well, of course, you must be quite sure, at least, that you have your Lord and Saviour in the boat with you. Then whatever may be the storm, we can face it; whatever may be the discouragement, we can bear it with Him—then you are quite sure of your catch in the end.

IV. You must do what He says.—If He is with you, you will do what He tells you. He will tell you, ‘Do not let your life run along conventionalities.’ Launch out. Conventionalities kill religion. We may get accustomed to everything. It is what is called in theological treatises, the canker in the Sanctuary, the same going to Church, the same prayers, the same Communions, the same people—no progress, no joy in the Holy Ghost, no outpouring of the Spirit, no gladness of heart. Launch out. If the Master is with you, you have no fear. Look at all the history of the saints. Launch out.

V. The result.—Whatever the Lord tells you individually to do, do, although it seems to you extravagant. We have toiled all the night, we are tired out, we are thoroughly discouraged, and we do not see that we have done any good at all. ‘Nevertheless, at Thy word:’ it is quite enough. And then comes the experience of life. Oh, what a man can do, if he works with the Master! The most blessed experience of all ministry is, that the Lord works with you and you work with the Lord. It is the crown of all ministry. Not the number of fish, not the success, but the crown of real ministry is that you are working with God, and God is working with you.

—Rev. A. H. Stanton.


Verse 4

LAUNCH OUT!

‘Launch out into the deep.’

Luke 5:4

Simon was surprised to receive that command; there are many still who do not seem able at once to respond to it.

I. To whom should these words be addressed?

(a) Disappointed workers.—As it was with Peter, so it has often been with Christ’s servants since, and we may surely learn some lesson from our Lord’s command on such an occasion. Let us dare a little more, venture a little further for Christ than we have ever done before.

(b) Desponding believers.—There is another kind of deep besides the deep of service. There is the ocean of God’s faithfulness. Launch the little craft of your faith and life on the mighty ocean of Divine love. How little we trust Christ!

(c) All faint-hearted voyagers over life’s troubled sea. Christ’s word to every troubled mariner is, ‘Fear not! launch out, and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.’

II. The command.—What does obedience to it involve? Why is it not more readily obeyed?

(a) It demands consecration.—If a boat is to be launched out into the deep, the first thing needed is to weigh anchor. There must be a casting aside of every weight. There must be unreserved consecration to Christ.

(b) There must be courage—to brave storms, to face the unknown, to stand alone, to withstand the obstacles which confront him who ventures on a new departure.

(c) Confidence is needed. ‘Nevertheless at Thy word’—there was faith. St. Peter had such confidence in Jesus Christ that it enabled him to put aside every other consideration.

III. How is obedience rewarded?—What are the rewards given to the man who trusts, who obeys?

(a) Success in service. St. Peter could not draw in the net for the multitude of fishes.

(b) To the despondent there shall be salvation. When we trust Christ fully we shall be rewarded by such a revelation of His fullness that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

(c) A revelation of the Saviour. St. Peter knew that day that Jesus was the Lord. We want such a revelation of power as will convince men that it is not man but God who is working in our midst.

(d) A renewal of devotion. ‘When they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed Him.’ Do you not desire devotion like that?

—Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustration

‘Years ago, standing at the pier-head in Lowestoft harbour, I watched a large fishing-smack working its way out to sea. The sailors fastened a hawser to one of the bulkheads of the pier near where I was standing, and made the other end fast to their vessel. Then they hauled the craft hand over hand till they reached the harbour and could feel the swing of the tide under her. Then the rope, which before had been a help, became a hindrance. “Throw her off, sir!” they cried to me, as the sails went up and the good ship caught the breeze—“Throw her off!” I lifted the heavy cable, and the next moment, like a thing of life, the vessel darted over the waves. Ah! there is many a man held back to-day like that vessel, by cords, not sinful in themselves, nay, which, it may be, have once been useful to him, but now are holding him back from God. Throw off the tie that binds you to the shore, throw it off and let the good ship go!’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

CHRIST AND CHRIST’S WORLD

It was while Christ was engaged in an ever-widening preaching tour there were uttered the most striking words ‘Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.’ Upon this sentence let us now fix our thoughts.

I. The words impress two great principles for the guidance of the Church’s life, viz. the principle or spirit of venturesomeness, ‘Launch out into the deep,’ and the principle or spirit of order, ‘Let down your nets for a draught.’ It is through the interaction of these two principles that the Lord can permanently bless His Church, and place His work upon a sure foundation. They are often separated, to the sure detriment both of the one and of the other. Not a few are venturesome and not orderly; not a few are orderly and not venturesome; not a few launch out into the deep, but have no nets to let down; not a few have nets, but have no deep into which they can let them down. Both principles have brought forth giants by which they are severally personified; but both principles are most honoured when giants can combine them in their due proportions.

II. The meaning attached to this command by the individual Christian will in each case be coloured by his own experience. What he means by ‘launch out’ will be modified for him by what he means by ‘the deep.’ Shall ‘the deep’ mean for us ‘Christ Himself,’ as the preparation for sailing into all other unknown seas? What a deep this! Christ in the fullness of the Godhead, in the fullness of the Manhood; Christ in ‘the love that passeth knowledge’; Christ in the power of His redeeming blood, in the power of His resurrection and of His intercession; Christ in the filling of His Holy Spirit, in His all-enabling enduement. To know Him with the grasp of that experience which can say, ‘I can do all things through Christ Who strengtheneth me,’ that is to enter upon a deep indeed, full of untrackable riches, full of inexpressible peace, full of unknown sources of power ready to be applied. We are, alas! content with cupfuls of Christ, while we may possess oceanfulnesses of Christ. ‘Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.’ And if in the first instance Christ Himself be for us ‘the deep,’ then ‘launch out’ will have a corresponding meaning. What are those cables that bind us to the shore that must be cut? What is that anchor that must be weighed, that can touch bottom, and which stands between us and ‘the multitude of fishes’? Not a few who have Christ are still afraid of Christ. He goes before, they follow Him up to a certain point, so far as they can ‘touch bottom,’ so far as they can lengthen their own anchor chains, and calculate. In presence of the unknown deep they hesitate. But ‘launch out,’ cut away all cables and all self-forged anchors, and out into the deep, ‘where no anchor but the Cross can hold,’ but that will hold. The most universal impediment to advance amongst Christians is ‘timidity’—not so much faithlessness, as the unexpressed fear that Christ cannot be to them all He promises to be, the fear that Christ cannot be to them more than self, and the interests that gravitate round self; that He cannot be to them more than their little pleasures, their home circle, their comforts, their books, their business, their gains. Their fear is that Christ is not ‘all and in all.’ Therefore they cannot ‘win Christ’ because they will not launch out into Christ. But launch out and win.

III. Christ and Christ’s world.—That ‘the deep’ should mean for us also ‘Christ Himself’ is one thing; that it should mean for us ‘the world for which Christ died’ is scarcely another thing, for when we are Christ-centred we must be world-absorbed, and the words must keep ringing in our ears, ‘As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.’ The Church hears much of laying hold on Christ, but the Church does not hear as much as it ought of laying hold on Christ’s world. Congregations like to hear a Gospel sermon about how Christ saves them, but not a few congregations shrink from a Gospel sermon about how Christ saves the world. The two thoughts go hand in hand and are inseparable. ‘The Church,’ as it has been expressed, ‘is self-centred, and therefore self-absorbed; she needs to become Christ-centred, and she will be world-absorbed.’ To know in ever-increasing degrees the love of Christ, is to know in the same degrees Christ’s love for the world.

IV. Two unfailing sources of encouragement.—To nerve us for this supreme decision, ‘to launch out,’ the text offers, amongst others, two unfailing sources of encouragement.

(a) The first is that Christ Himself is in the ship in which we sail, and in the deep into which we sail. He tells us to do nothing in which He Himself does not all along stand by our side, in sunshine and gloom, in storm and calm, in success and disappointment. He bids us enter upon no untried path where He is not and has not gone already; for ‘if I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.’

(b) The second source of encouragement is that if we do what Christ tells us, sooner or later, in one way or another, our nets shall enclose a great multitude of fishes, and that ‘take’ will with Christ be a reward unspeakable rendered to the spirit of faith and obedience. It may be that we shall witness in this life so great a multitude granted to our toils, that our nets shall be in danger of breaking; on the other hand, it may be that this source of encouragement is denied us until the Resurrection morning.

But upon that morning-dawn Jesus Himself shall stand in visible person upon the shore; the fishes we have now caught, still in the water, out of sight, will all be found then to be great fishes, all perfected, all numbered one by one, and not one lost. The net, the perfected Church, then in no danger of breaking, will draw them all to the eternal shore, and we and they shall receive together the invitation of our glorified Lord and Master, ‘Come and dine,’ and shall experience to the full the meaning of the promise, ‘Ye which have followed Me … shall receive one hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.’

Rev. H. Percy Grubb.


Verse 5

‘AT THY WORD’

“Nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net.’

Luke 5:5

There are few things in common life so illustrative of the actings of faith—as ‘a net cast into the sea.’

I. The net an emblem of faith.—But if the net be always the emblem of faith, there are points about that ‘net’ which St. Peter cast which give an especial aptitude to the image. St. Peter had not yet forgotten the weary night; yet it was in no unbelief, but rather in the simplicity of his own honest, outspoken heart, that he said, ‘Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net.’ Already, that man had learnt to draw the grandest distinction of life—the difference between doing a thing with God, and doing it without God; at His word, or not at His word. Already, that mind discriminated between nature’s working and the working of grace. Already, his faith was sufficient to make him do that hopefully, as an act of obedience, which he had done fruitlessly at his own suggestion.

II. There is always a promise within a command, and an ordered thing is a thing undertaken for. St. Peter’s mind—or rather his heart—went through all this in an instant; and the disappointing night passed away out of his thoughts into ‘Nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net.’ You remember the result. The success was overwhelming! The net was broken, and the ships were well-nigh crushed under a load of blessing. To teach us always that true lesson, that what we want is not so much the mercy and the gift—for they are there, they are sure to come—but the room and the strength to receive them when they come.

III. ‘At Thy word.’—The hardest thing in the whole world is to do an old thing in a new way; to repeat what we have done before, and done uselessly, with a fresh motive, and a fresh energy, hopefully and believingly. But this is just what most of us have to do. You have sought right things, and sought them earnestly; but you have not yet succeeded. Why? It was not ‘At thy word.’ Lay these master-thoughts well to your heart. ‘At Thy word.’ I will go with the promises. Not my arm; not my counsel; not my prayer; not my faith—but ‘Thy word’—only ‘Thy word.’ Take care that you begin with some distinct word of God that you may place underneath you. For where did St. Peter put his ‘net’? Not so much into the water—that would not be the uppermost thought in his mind—but deeper things, the word, the word Christ had spoken. He put down his ‘net’ into the faithfulness of God! Let the word be everything, and you will soon find yourself one who casts into full waters.

Rev. James Vaughan.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

‘NEVERTHELESS’

I. A picture of ourselves.—‘Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing.’ Do not many of us feel this to be sadly true of our individual lives and characters? How much we might have done! How noble our characters might have been! What poor, shrivelled, unsatisfactory things they are! Only think of the golden, the unbounded possibilities of childhood and of youth. What small advantage we took of them! We are but stupid changelings of ourselves, mere wrecks and ghosts of what God designed us to be.

II. However low we sink we must never cease the effort to struggle up.—That is a lesson supremely necessary, but it is another only of the many aspects in which this text might be regarded, which is also full of encouragement for all of us. If it should awaken the despondent, it should also inspire the toiling. We think far too much, every one of us, of our little work. We forget that God is patient because He is eternal. All true work which we do is precious to God, not in so far as it is successful, for that does not depend upon us, but in so far as it is true. We have nothing to do with its results. The efforts are ours, the results belong to God. Could anything have been more disastrously forlorn than the work of St. Paul, or more expressive than the result of it, when, deserted by all his converts, forgotten by all them of Asia, and none so poor as not to be ashamed of his religion, he was led out to his lonely death. Yet we know that he wrote in his dungeon and almost in his last words, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown,’ not ‘a crown of glory’ as you so often put it, but something much better, ‘henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge will give me in that day.’

III. Among the many thoughts of help which that brave ‘nevertheless’ of St. Peter may bring to us, let us, above all, learn these two things:

(a) First, never to despair of ourselves, because unless we abandon ourselves, so long as there is any effort in us after better things, God will not leave us nor forsake us; and

(b) Secondly, never to despair of work, however fruitless, however complete a failure it may seem to be. ‘Commit thy way unto the Lord, put thy trust in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.’ ‘Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net.’

—Dean Farrar.

Illustration

‘If you look into St. Peter’s words you will find in them two predominant feelings. One is that of weariness: “We have toiled all the night; must we begin again?” The other is discouragement: “Must we, after failing all these hours, most favourable for fishing, now start again in the full glare of the noontide sun? Nevertheless”—here is the correction of the two feelings—“nevertheless, if Thou biddest me, there is that in Thy voice which constrains my obedience, and, notwithstanding weariness and notwithstanding discouragement, nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net.” St. Peter’s reply, then, teaches us that the word nevertheless, like its great sonorous synonym, notwithstanding, has in it two things, a “though” and a “yet.” “This or that is against it, yet it shall be done.” In the particular instance weariness was against it, and discouragement was against it, but there was a constraining something for it. That something was Christ’s word, and that settled the question of doing it or not doing it. It may be said, that life, as a whole, is a great nevertheless, and that each act of life is a little nevertheless; and we may say further that a noble life is characterised by a preponderance of the “yet” in it, and that a poor life is characterised by a preponderance of the “though.” The poor life says, “I have toiled all the night, and nothing has come of it; I will give it up.” The noble life says, “True, I have toiled all these days, all these years, and I seem to myself to be a complete and utter failure; but Jesus Christ says, Let down the net; and at His word, and simply because of His word, I will do it.”’


Verse 8

GOD AND OURSELVES

‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’

Luke 5:8

If the first lesson which was learned by Simon in the school of Jesus Christ was the lesson of holy confidence, the second, which rapidly follows, is the lesson of holy fear, the reverent remembrance of the difference between God and ourselves. In other words, ‘I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me,’ while I remember the Master’s injunction, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing.’

In various ways, at different times in our lives, we are tempted to think that we can do without God.

I. The fear of God.—To gainsay God—with all reverence be it said—is to despise God. To distrust God is to be guilty of the most lamentable ignorance of God. Fear God man must, and ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ Fear Him we must, either with the fear of a terror which hides itself before the face of a power it will not acknowledge and reverence, or with a holy, loving fear which grows and grows into that perfect love which casteth out fear.

II. St. Peter’s opportunity.—What has the Bible been to us? Surely the record of how God was bringing back men to the knowledge of His love and His care. So in St. Peter’s case many and many were the resolutions which he made how rigidly he would serve his Lord in the coming days. Well, he shall have the opportunity. God sends a multitude of fishes. And that man is face to face with the great lesson given in the startling contrast of his weakness with the power of God, his lukewarmness and Christ’s generosity, of his fickleness and the eternal constancy of God.

III. We have toiled all night in the storm of our passion, in the darkness of our ignorance, for fame, for money, and for happiness—good if sought in God’s way, but sought alone, without God, what does it bring? We achieve the fame, and then we learn that man’s life is but a vapour that passeth away. We get our money, but ‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.’ We seek our happiness, and find it, only to realise that no sooner have we grasped it than fresh cravings are evermore arising, and satisfaction and rest and peace are as far off as ever. Ah! and then—are there not some who will bear me out?—there comes a cry for succour in our need, no set language but a cry to God; and when the storm is over and the earthquake is no more there is the still small voice which says, ‘Launch out once more, not in your own strength, but in Mine,’ and we realise that though we forget God He never forgets us, and our extremity is God’s opportunity. When we feel the contrast between our lukewarmness and God’s generosity—how little time, how little money, how little work for God, and yet His power has been with us all the while—we recognise our fickleness and God’s constancy; so many resolutions made only to be forgotten, and in the felt sense of that contrast we too fall down and say, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’

—Rev. Canon Pollock.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

CONVICTION OF SIN

Our Lord here proclaims to St. Peter by a significant act many things on which his heart may feed.

I. The meaning and object of this miracle.—It taught more than all others God’s personality. At the bottom of all things here there is a law. It is the tendency of habit to look upon law, and see nothing below it. A miracle breaks the continuity of these laws by a higher law—an interruption, not a contradiction of law.

II. The effects produced by it on St. Peter’s mind.—The effect ended in the production of a sense of sin, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ This was not mere wonder, nor was it curiosity, or surprise; it was the sense of personal sin.

(a) The cause of this impression. The impression was produced by the pure presence of Jesus Christ. Wherever the Redeemer went He elicited a strange sense of sin. This, too, is the case wherever Christianity is preached.

(b) This conviction of sin in Peter’s bosom was not remorse or anguish for crime, but of inward devotedness.

Rev. F. W. Robertson.


Verse 10

THE FUNCTION AND SIGNIFICANCE OF MIRACLE

‘Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.’

Luke 5:10

In considering this narrative there are two subjects on which we may dwell; first, the general function of miracle in the ministry of our Lord; and next, the symbolic significance of this miracle in particular.

I. The function of miracle.—What this true function of miracle is may best be gathered from John’s comment on the first miracle at Cana of Galilee (John 2:11). By it ‘He manifested forth His glory, and His disciples believed on Him.’ Various words are used in the Gospel narratives to describe miracles. The simplest, and perhaps least significant, is the word which we render ‘wonder.’ The second is a word denoting properly a ‘power’ at work. The third is the word ‘sign.’ Of what is miracle a sign? The answer is clear. It is a sign of the manifest intervention of a superhuman will and purpose in the realms of nature and of humanity, working in the one absolutely, in the other with the concurrence through faith of the wills of those on whom it works. As such, it is intended further to call the world’s attention to the character and mission of Him Who works it, and to incline men to listen reverently to His Word, and bow to His authority. Its function is thus simply preparatory.

II. The symbolic meaning of this particular miracle.—The key to that meaning is given by His charge to the Apostles to be ‘fishers of men,’ and by His parable (see Matthew 13:47-50), which likens the Kingdom of Heaven to a ‘draw-net cast into the sea.’ In all points of the narrative we trace the ever-recurring experience of the Church of Christ, especially in the apostolic age, but also at all great epochs of progress and revival.

His messengers are to be earnest and faithful ‘fishers of men.’

Bishop Barry.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

FISHERS OF MEN

Observe:—

I. The presence of Christ ensures success.—The net enclosed a great multitude of fishes. We can wash the Gospel nets. We can mend the Gospel nets. We can let down those nets into the seething sea of human life; but without the Spirit of Christ we cannot save, or help, or comfort a single soul.

II. St. Peter’s astonishment.—St. Peter did not mean ‘depart,’ and Christ knew it. There were two causes for St. Peter’s astonishment. He saw the glory of his Lord; he felt the sinfulness of his own heart. Such an experimental acquaintance, both with Christ and with self, is necessary to the salvation of any man.

III. The Lord’s gracious promise.—The Greek is, ‘Thou shalt take men alive.’ Fish are caught for death, for food; men are to be caught for life. Every true minister of the Gospel can look his people in the face and say, ‘I seek not yours, but you.’ The real object of the preaching of the Gospel is a gathering of souls unto God; that men may be brought out by grace from lives of self-pleasing and self-indulgence, and led to consecrate themselves to Christ as their only Lord and Master.

—Rev. F. Harper.

Illustration

‘There was a circumstance connected with the miracle that St. Peter had witnessed, which was especially to be attended to in connection with his future ministry. The general life of a fisherman was no doubt toilsome and hard; but it was also upon the whole successful. Christ chose a moment in St. Peter’s life for the enforcing of the great lesson which He desired to teach when the labour had been peculiarly unsuccessful; they had toiled all night and had taken nothing, and it was after this night of fruitless effort that Christ joined the party and bid them once more cast out their nets. It was not, therefore, the general success of their occupation that made Christ choose the life of fishermen as the type of the life of His Apostles; He would not represent the work to which he called Peter and James and John as an ordinary work, which they had only to go about as they would about any other work in order to ensure success; he rather took the fishermen at a moment when their human sagacity and skill had failed them, and when they had given up their endeavours for the time as useless, in order to show them that the mainspring of their success in their future work was to be, not confidence in their own skill, but faith in Himself. Moreover, the personal presence of Christ could very much strengthen the lesson.’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE MINISTERS CALLING

What was true of St. Peter is true, in measure, of every Christian minister.

I. The sea.—The sea, in which the catcher of men plies his benevolent vocation, is the world of human society. In its vastness, in its vicissitudes, in its uncertainties, in its dangers, this world of humanity is as a great ocean, both inviting and yet often repelling the toil of the toiler.

II. The fish.—The fish which are sought in this sea are human souls. As the disciples, in exercising their calling, sometimes toiled all night and caught nothing, because the fish were wary or were elsewhere, so we are reminded, by the figurative language of the text, that it is a hard, laborious, unpromising task in which the preachers of the Gospel are engaged. Toil is often followed by disappointment and discouragement.

III. The net.—The net which is cast into this sea is the Gospel—an instrument devised by Divine wisdom, and adapted to enclose souls of every kind. Without the net the fisherman is helpless; with the net he is Divinely equipped.

IV. Things which make for success.—The qualities of the successful fisherman are to be imitated by the faithful minister of Jesus Christ. Skill, assiduity, patience, perseverance, with the blessing of God, may effect great wonders.

V. The result.—The catching of the fish may represent the bringing souls within the sacred and secure environment of the Church, and the landing of them may picture the leading them to heavenly felicity. The Christian minister is only satisfied and rewarded when those who are far from God are brought nigh, are made partakers of eternal salvation.

Illustration

‘This miracle had a twofold object. It was intended to produce an immediate effect upon their minds, to deepen their faith in a Master Who had called them, and to set forth His power, His watchfulness, His love. But still more it was intended to take effect in the future; it was emphatically a prophetic miracle, it was to be looked back to and to yield inexhaustible comfort again and again, amid the heavy cares and discouraging tasks of the years to come, when the Gospel net had been finally put into their hands, and they had become fishers of men. How many a time when that net has been cast and drawn to the shore by weary arms and found empty—how many a time the memory of this scene has revived the sinking hearts of workers for Christ! The great triumphs of the Gospel of Christ have often been like the miraculous draught of fishes—overpowering surprises after periods of stagnation. The success has been perilous from its very magnitude, and the suddenness of its demand upon the strength and skill of those who had to reap it.’


Verse 16

SPIRITUAL SOLITUDE

‘And He withdrew Himself into the wilderness, and prayed.’

Luke 5:16

The wilderness and the mountain—the two loneliest places He could command—appear several times to have made fitting retirement for Christ.

God provides wildernesses for us all, and He provides them in the same mercy and in the same intention with which He provided them for Israel, or for Moses, or for Elijah, or for Paul, or for Christ.

I. Where is the wilderness?—The many bright rooms of your house are the Nazareth, and the Capernaum, and the Jerusalem. But where is the wilderness? In the quietude of your own room, arranged for you in the kind Providence of God, that in your chamber you may follow Christ as He went, and do what He did, alone. All greatly need it. Nothing in the family, nothing out of doors, no intercourse, can compensate for the solitude of the soul. The spiritual life depends upon the sanctuary of the wilderness of your own private bedroom.

II. The purpose of the wilderness.—Christ went into the wilderness to ‘pray.’ Beware of sentimental solitude. Beware of prayerless solitude. Beware of idle solitude. There are prayers, such as we have been now offering, when we do right, as we pray, to gather into our mind the sense of the presence of every individual within the walls, and to embrace them all into one loving heart. But there is prayer which must be intense loneliness with God. What a man is to God, that a man is. You stand, it may be, in many relationships, and they are all dear. But one by one those relationships must pass away, that you may be related only to one, and that one God. Look well to it that you adjust, that you know your real position towards God and towards eternity.


Verse 32

CHRIST’S CALL

‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’

Luke 5:32

The call of Levi and the incidents associated with it are full of interest and instruction. Note:—

I. The power of Christ’s calling grace.—Levi belonged to a class who were a very proverb for wickedness. Yet even he at once ‘left all, rose up, followed’ Christ, and became a disciple.

II. Obedience to Christ’s call brings joy.—Levi ‘made a great feast in his own house’; and ‘there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.’

III. Converted souls desire to promote the conversion of others.—Levi invited ‘a great company of publicans’ to share in his feast. Most probably these men were his old friends and companions. He knew well what their souls needed, for he had been one of them.

III. The chief object of Christ’s coming into the world.—We have it in the well-known words, ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’

Illustration

‘We must be careful not to suppose that Levi neglected his duty to the government and inflicted loss on his employers, by this sudden action here recorded, in leaving his post. It is highly probable that, like many tax-gatherers and toll-collectors, he hired the tolls at the place where our Lord found him, by the year, and paid in advance. This being the case, if he chose to leave his post, he did so entirely at his own loss, but the government was not defrauded. Watson remarks, “Had Levi been a government servant hired at a salary like our custom-house officers, to collect the duties, he must in justice have remained until a successor was appointed. But having himself purchased the tolls and dues for a given period, he was at liberty to throw up the office of exacting them at pleasure.” The word translated “feast,” is only used here and Luke 19:13. It means a kind of large reception banquet, such as only wealthy people could give, and at which the guests were numerous. The worldly sacrifice which Levi made in becoming Christ’s disciple was probably greater than that made by any of the Apostles.’


Verse 39

THE EXCELLENCE OF THE LITURGY

‘No man having drunk old wine desireth new; for he saith, The old is better.’

Luke 5:39

The excellency of the Liturgy of the Church of England! This is proved by using it. No man having drunk of this wine desireth new; experience has taught him what argument might have failed in doing, that the old is better. Solvitur ambulando. The excellency of the Liturgy of the Church of England is assumed from:—

I. The point of view of scripturalness and Scripture truth.—Above two-thirds of the daily service of the Church consists of extracts from Scripture. You may find fault with the minister and object to his preaching, but no minister can rob you of a service in which the Bible takes the chief place. The Psalter is read through twelve times a year; the bulk of the Old Testament once; the New Testament (save for three chapters) twice. Each Sunday and holy-day has a special Epistle and Gospel. On Ash Wednesday we have an exhortation which is practically in the very words of Scripture. Not only so, but this normal arrangement is ruthlessly set aside when the fluctuations of the ecclesiastical year demand that our attention should be fixed on what Prebendary Sadler called ‘the Scripture Gospel.’ Compare this form of worship with what obtains in many a Nonconformist chapel, where, both in reading and in preaching, the officiating minister follows his own will and fancy.

II. The point of view of what may be called balance.—‘I thank God,’ said one who had just experienced a wonderful outpouring of the Holy Spirit, ‘that I was brought up in the Church of England.’ We live in an age of revivals, of zeal and enthusiasm. Let us be grateful for it. But zeal and enthusiasm are apt to become one-sided and intolerant. It needed the well-balanced mind of an Erasmus to see the dangers which were hidden from the eyes of a Luther. There was a time for Luther and there was a time for Erasmus. There are men who have joined the Church of England because only in her could they find freedom, within reasonable limits, for that unfettered consideration of theological difficulties which is so necessary in these days of searching investigation, the result of that freedom being frequently (thank God!) a hearty acquiescence in those views which are looked upon as orthodox, instead of being driven by the extreme dogmas of a sect into heresy of opinion and misery of soul.

III. The point of view of fitness and good taste.—We live in a critical age. We live in a religious age. The religious and critical spirit are continually at variance, and (to some extent) act and react on each other. Earnestness may compel our admiration, but good taste refuses to be outraged even for the sake of earnestness, be it ever so earnest. The fierce light of criticism, the almost unreasonable requirements of good taste, the innate conviction of what ought to constitute the fitness of things, is silent in the case of our Liturgy. Criticism may discuss the ritual which obtains; good taste may have its say with regard to the reading and the music which are customary; but the words themselves of the Prayer Book retain to the full to-day, as much as when John Keble in 1827 wrote his charming preface to The Christian Year, their ‘soothing tendency.’ The Collect for the day will touch many a heart where extempore prayer would but cause a cavil; the Te Deum will be the song of praise to many who, like Charles Kingsley, are sorely exercised by most of our modern hymns; and the secret agnostic will stand reverently at the open grave and be comforted by the most touching of our occasional services.

IV. The point of view of spiritual growth.—As we advance in the spiritual life, as we draw nearer to the presence of God, we have no need to borrow phrases which seem to stamp us as of some school of thought of yesterday; the third Collect at Morning Prayer (to take but one out of the full sum of Anglican devotion) will satisfy the aspirations of St. Paul when caught up to the third heaven; it will indicate a line of practical Christian perfectionism which can never be surpassed on this side of eternity.

We have in our possession a spiritual treasure. Do we use it, do we enjoy it?

(a) Unless our Liturgy is used it is but a poor possession. The fervent Dissenter whose heart follows the petitions uttered by his minister has a more valuable possession than those who hear the Liturgy but take no part therein. Learn, then, to appreciate the Prayer Book by using it. If we do not use our Prayer Books we shall starve in the midst of plenty; let us see to it that we show our appreciation of our treasury of devotion by our acquaintance with its many priceless gems.

(b) Lastly, let us nourish our spiritual life by the Liturgy of the Church of England. Where ought we to find more perfect Christians than in the members of the Anglican communion? They ‘have all and abound,’ as regards prayer and praise and Scripture-reading. But the Prayer Book, like the Bible, needs a key with which to unlock its treasures. That key is Jesus Christ. Those who know Christ, those who are following Christ, those who have put on Christ, will learn more and more of Christ in the Liturgy as their spiritual life deepens and widens with experience and prayer.

—Rev. E. J. Sturdee.

Illustration

‘In 1875 a Convention was held at Brighton to emphasise a comparatively new development of spiritual life in the direction of what was called “sanctification by faith alone.” Much interest was aroused in the movement. Much discussion took place all over the country in connection with it. Among those who visited the Convention was one whose books and teaching have long been cherished by thousands who only knew her by name, when they heard that Mrs. Rundle Charles was the authoress of The Schönberg Cotta Family. Mrs. Charles went to the Convention, and embodied her experiences in an article sent to a religious paper, and afterwards reproduced in one of her most charming books, The Bertram Family. And this was the gist of her remarks, that all she had heard at Brighton was virtually contained in the Liturgy, and though true was in no sense new.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 5:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/luke-5.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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