When St. Luke compiled his Gospel, many of the circumstances connected with the early relations of the leaders of Christianity with their Founder were so well known, and had been so often repeated, that it seemed unnecessary to rehearse them afresh; hence to us the seeming abruptness of the introduction of Simon (Peter), James, and John in the scene now about to be related. In the preceding, the healing of Simon's wife's mother of a great fever is related without any explanation, as though Simon Peter's connection with the Lord was a fact too well known to require any comment or explanation.
The association of Jesus and these chosen men seems to have commenced as follows: Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew (sons of Jona), John and James (the sons of Zebedee and Salome), belonged to fisher families dwelling on the banks of the Lake of Gennesaret. They seemed to have been fast friends, at times even partners in their occupation. Sharers with many others of the youth of Israel of their time, in a passionate hope that the hour of the long-promised deliverance from the yoke of their foreign oppressors was at hand, the four became disciples of the Baptist, and by him they were referred to Jesus, who in mysterious but exalted terms was pointed out by the great desert preacher, John, as "the Lamb of God," the Glorious, the Expected One (John 1:35-43). They joined the Master at the bidding of John, and for a time were associated with him. Still at first they were only with him apparently at times, leaving him and returning to their homes and occupations, waiting for some definite and imperative summons to join his cause permanently. The summons in question is related in this chapter. The time was now come when the Lord deemed it fitting that he should surround himself with a company of disciples or pupils who should be constant witnesses of his works, hearers of his words, and thus be trained up for the great task of continuing his mission when he should have returned to his home in heaven.
We read these Gospels as the story of the Master's life often without thinking how much of that life is never told. After all, we only possess a few representative incidents—the events which the twelve and their first friends had selected as the themes of their sermons and discourses in Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, and the great centres of early Christian activity. Here, after the story of one sabbath day's blessed toil in Capernaum, follows a sentence which passes over, in a word or two, many days of quiet teaching in populous towns and villages of the once rich Galilee, and then the evangelist gives us with some detail the account of a morning by the lake, where he preached from a boat to the crowds on the shore, and then went out a-fishing, and, after the fishing, bade the fishermen leave all and come with him, and he would give them a new work.
And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God. His fame as a great Teacher was evidently now firmly established. If it were known that he intended speaking in public, a crowd of listeners would gather quickly round him, whether in the synagogues, or by the lake-shore, or in the market-place. He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret. On this occasion, as he taught by the quiet lake waters, the throng was so great that he borrowed the fishing-boat of one of his friends, and, just pushing out from the shore, spoke to the multitude from the little craft as it rocked on the wavelets of the lake. Dean Stanley calls it "the most sacred sheet of water which the earth contains." The rabbinical derivation is interesting: "Gannesarim, garden of princes;" but it is more probable that Gennesaret is but a reproduction of the old Hebrew name Chinneroth (Joshua 12:3), so called from its harplike shape. It is a beautiful sheet of water, twelve or thirteen miles long and nearly seven broad at one portion of the lake. The Jordan flows through it. In our Lord's time it was surrounded by the richest and most populous district of the Holy Land; large and flourishing towns were built along its shores. Capernaum, as has been said, was the junction of the great roads leading from Syria and the far East to the Mediterranean on the west, and Jerusalem and Egypt on the south. The lake was famous for its fish, and was crowded with all descriptions of craft. The whole scene is now changed. Scarcely a rude boat is ever seen on the blue silent waters. Desolate ruins fringe the deserted shores, with here and there a crumbling mud village, inhabited by the poorest and least enterprising of peasants, so sadly changed is this beautiful and wealthy district, which the rabbis used to love to speak of as the one among the seven seas of Canaan which God had reserved for himself.
And he sat down, as in the synagogue of Capernaum—the usual attitude of the Jewish preachers.
And let down your nets for a draught. Not necessarily a miraculous draught; it was probably a supernatural knowledge which the Lord had of a shoal of fish to be found in the spot indicated by him to the fishermen. Tristram (' Natural History of the Bible ') says, "The thickness of the shoals of fish is almost incredible to any one who has not witnessed them. They often cover an area of more than an acre, and when the fish move slowly forward in a mass, and are rising out of the water, they are packed so close together that it appears as if a heavy rain was beating down on the surface of the water."
Master. The word in the original so rendered is not Rabbi, as in the other Gospels, but ἐπίστατα, Teacher. The Jewish term would not have been understood by the Gentile reader for whom the story was especially intended.
And their net brake. Augustine beautifully compares the broken and torn net to the Church that now is, full of divisions and rents; the net unrent and untorn will be the Church of the future, which will know no schisms.
Fear not. A feeling of intense overpowering awe on a sudden came on Simon after listening to the words and seeing this last act of power which so closely affected him. The very fish of his native lake, then, were subject to this strange holy Man! This was no mortal, thought the fisherman, and he fell at the Master's feet. "Finding as it does its parallel in almost all manifestations of a Divine or even an angelic presence, it (this awful fear) must be owned to contain a mighty, because an instructive, witness for the sinfulness of man's nature, out of which it comes to pass that any near revelation from the heavenly world fills the children of men, even the holiest among them, with terror and amazement, yea, sometimes with the expectation of death itself" (Archbishop Trench, 'Introduction to the Epistles to the Seven Churches'). The same "Fear not" ("Be not afraid") was uttered on like occasions to Isaiah (Isaiah 6:7), to Daniel (Daniel 10:12), and several times during the earthly ministry was said to the disciples, and for the last time the reassuring words were spoken by the Redeemer after the Ascension to his own dear follower, John, who could not bear the sight of the glorious majesty of his risen Lord. Thou shalt catch men. The imagery contained in these words of the Master to his fishermen-followers was, of course, drawn from the late scene. Their failure in catching fish, their Teacher's marvellous success, the net bursting with the great catch of silvery fish; the Lord's strange prophetic words which accompanied their call to his service,—all would in after-years often come up before the disciples in their hours of alternating failure and success in the mighty task he had set them to do. The great Fisherman, Christ; his imitators and servants, fishers; the world of men pictured as fish,—were ever favourite images for the pencil, the graving tool, and the pen of the Christian artist and writer of the first ages of the faith. One of the earliest extant hymns, for instance, of the Church, by Clement of Alexandria, dwells on the image. The words are addressed to Christ—
"Fisher of men, the blest,
Out of the world's unrest,
Out of sin's troubled sea,
Taking us, Lord, to thee;
Out of the waves of strife
With bait of blissful life;
Drawing thy nets to shore,
With choicest fish, good store."
(Hymn of Clement of Alexandria.)
The favourite Christian monogram of the fish, carved on so many tombs in the Catacombs, belongs to the same imagery—the ιχθυς
The leper is healed in a certain city.
When he was in a certain city. From the scene in the boat on the lake with the fishermen, Luke abruptly passes to another memorable incident which took place probably soon after—memorable because it is the first recorded instance of Jesus' contact with that most terrible of earthly maladies, leprosy. The certain city was probably the town of Hattim, for we read in St. Matthew that the famous cure took place as the Lord was coming down from the mount of Beatitudes. (This will be spoken of in its place in Matthew 6:1-34.) Behold a man full of leprosy. The expression "behold" reproduces exactly the scene as the eye-witness remembered it. There were many apparently with the Master on that occasion; but following him, suddenly, as he went on before the crowd, one of those ghastly victims of the frightful disease stood before him, apparently having eluded observation, for they were not allowed to appear in the ordinary haunts of men. The unhappy man fell down and knelt before the great Physician, of whom he may have heard so much, and asks him to exercise his mighty power on the dread malady which was eating away his life. The leper evidently had no doubt whatever of the power of Jesus; he was only anxious as to whether he had the will to cure him. The whole question respecting the exact nature of the disease is a vexed one. The word has been used with varying extent of meaning. As far as we can gather, the disease in its worst form seems to have been a progressive decay arising from the poisoning of the blood. The face and different members of the body were attacked and gradually destroyed, till the sufferer became a hideous spectacle, and literally fell to pieces. It is much disputed whether or not the malady in any of its varied developments and stages was contagious. The strict separation which in well-nigh all forms of the disease was rigidly insisted on would seem at all events to point to the conclusion that, in the popular estimation, it certainly was so; some phases of the malady, however, appear to have been considered as perfectly free from contagious effect—for instance, Naaman, the captain of the host of Syria, was a leper. It is hot conceivable that one who was infected with so grave a malady, considered incurable, would, if contagious, have been permitted to have exercised a function which would have brought him into constant contact with masses of his fellow-countrymen. These cases, however, were apparently few in number, and those afflicted with what was usually called leprosy were rigidly separated from their fellows, not only to dwell apart, but positively forbidden to approach the dwellings of men. In the Egyptian legends of the Exodus, the Israelites were said to have been expelled because they were lepers.
And he put forth his hand, mad touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. St. Mark adds here, "being touched with compassion." The Redeemer, at the sight of the man's awful wretchedness—wasting away, shunned by all men, dragging on a hopeless, aimless, weary life—in his Divine pity, with a sudden impulse tosses aside all considerations of ceremonial uncleanness or contagion, and lays his hand on the miserable sufferer from whom all shrank, with his word of power exclaimed, "I will: be thou clean." St. Ambrose writes here how "Jesus, because he is the Lord of the Law, does not obey the Law, but makes the Law." "Here Jesus obeys that Divine eternal law of compassion, in its sudden impulse, which is older and grander than the written Law" (Farrar). It is observable that in these sudden cases, in which the common brotherhood of man was involved, the nobler spirits of Israel ever rose above all consideration of law and custom, and, putting aside all legal, orthodox restriction, obeyed at once the sovereign dictates of the heart. So Elijah and Elisha, those true saints of God, shrank not from touching the dead.
And he charged him to tell no man. We find this desire of Jesus to check publicity after he had worked one of his great works, especially in the earlier part of his ministry. Chrysostom attributes this to the Master's regard for the one who had been healed, desiring that his gratitude to God for the mercy vouchsafed to him should not be frittered away in words, in idle talk with curious persons. It is, however, more likely that the Master wished to stem rather than to fan the tide of popularity which such mighty works would be sure to excite among the people. What he determined to check was a false and mistaken desire among the people to make him king.
But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities. It is evident that his wishes and commands were neglected, possibly out of a mistaken feeling of gratitude. The result was that his work of teaching was hindered by the crowds who resorted to him at once as a Physician of extraordinary power. But he had graver and much more important work before him than even the blessed task of relieving suffering. So he withdrew himself, says our evangelist, and again spent a short season in solitude and prayer.
The healing of the paralyzed man.
And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the Law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem. Again an interval of time. The fame of the new Teacher had spread rapidly. One day, some time after the events told in the last section, the Master was sitting in the house apparently of some one of consideration in Capernaum, and, as usual, was teaching. Grouped round him were a different audience to the traders and fishermen of the lake-city; prominent men of the leading religious party in the state, not only from Galilee, but from Jerusalem and other Judaean cities, such as Hebron, as well as learned doctors of the Law. These had been drawn from curiosity, some doubtless by higher motives, to hear for themselves the teaching of this now famous Nazarene Carpenter. These do not appear to have been actuated with the jealous malignity of some of those later deputations from the Jerusalem Sanhedrin and schools. The house was thronged within, and the crowd pressed round the doors. In the course of the quiet teaching, took place the incident which gave rise to one of the Lord's great sayings—an utterance so important that it evidently had been chosen by the apostles as a frequent theme or text in the preaching of the first days.
Luke 5:18, Luke 5:19
And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him. And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the house-top, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. So far there was nothing very unusual in the incident. These healings must have been of common occurrence with our Lord. The poor sufferer and his friends, intensely anxious for an interview with One whom they justly regarded as the great Physician, were rightly confident that they had but to see the Master, to state their case, and to receive the blessing which they sought. On this occasion it seemed impossible to get at the merciful Healer. Now or never, they thought. He might, as he had done before, withdraw himself. The chance might never recur. So they accomplished their purpose in the way narrated by the evangelist. It was evidently nothing very extraordinary—an ingenious device, nothing more; only by it the friends of the sufferer showed that they were intensely in earnest, that they were confident that the Master had both the power and the will to do what they wanted, Much has been written on the device employed on this occasion by the friends of the paralytic. Delitzsch, in his 'A Day at Capernaum,' graphically describes what must have taken place. Two bearers ascend the roof by a ladder, and by means of cords they draw up by the same way the sick man after them, assisted by two other bearers. In the middle of the terrace was a square place, open in summer to give light and air to the house, but closed with tiles during the rainy season. Having opened this passage, the bearers let down the sick man into the large inner court immediately below, where Jesus was teaching, near the cistern fixed as usual in this court. The trap-stairs, which led down from the terrace into the court, would have been too narrow for their use, and would not have taken them into the court, but into the apartments which overlooked it from all sides.
And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. For a moment the great Physician gave place to the Heart-reader; and the Lord spoke those strange, grand words to give comfort and peace to the suffering, silent, sick man. Jesus read what was in the heart of the poor paralytic; his sins distressed him more than his malady; very possibly the sad infirmity had been brought about by his old dissolute life. The soul, then, must be healed first. It was for this, we believe, that the story of the man with the palsy was told and retold by the first Christian preachers, and so found a place in the three Gospel narratives—this lofty claim of the Master to forgive sins; a claim so grandly supported by a miraculous act done in the open daylight in the presence of the people.
And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? It is very probable that some of those who stood by, had already, at Jerusalem, witnessed by the Bethesda Pool a wonder-work done by the same Jesus on the person of an impotent man lying there waiting for the troubling of the water (John 5:5, John 5:9), and had taken part there in an angry expostulation with the Wonder-worker, who on that occasion, in his words, "made himself equal with God" (John 5:18). We know (see Luke 5:17) that some of the Jerusalem scribes were present that day in the Capernaum house. Again, thought these learned Jews, "this strange Man is uttering his dread blasphemies, but now in even more plain terms than there.'
Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? The Heart-reader hears, perhaps, the murmur as it runs round the circle, and grasping in a moment all that was in the angry hearts of these men, said aloud, that all might hear, some such words as these, "See now what I am about to do. You, in your dim short-sighted wisdom, think my forgiving this poor repentant sinner his dark past, is but an empty, meaningless form of words. See now whether what I am about to do further for him is an empty meaningless boon."
Luke 5:24, Luke 5:25
That ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. The lookers-on, the curious, the cavillers, the friendly, too, as the unfriendly, who crowded that Capernaum house, could not see with their eyes the Redeemer's remission of the palsied man's sins. The sufferer alone was conscious that the great burden which pressed on his soul was removed at the Master's word. But all could see the miracle which followed. Any one of those present, had he dared, might have uttered the solemn absolution. None but he could surely risk, as he risked, such words which followed, and which challenged an instant and visible fulfilment. It was a strange, great claim the Master made that day, and we may be sure it and the mighty sign which followed sank deep into many a heart. We see why the memory of this day's work was treasured up so faithfully. He took up that whereon he lay. This could easily have been done. The bed or pallet would be nothing but a light portable framework covered with a blanket.
We have seen strange things to-day. The strange things ( παράδοξα) alluded especially to the miracle which, as it were, solemnly authenticated the sublime claim to forgiveness of sins on the part of Jesus.
The calf of Levi (Matthew the publican), and the feast that followed.
And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. Capernaum, as has been already noticed, had become, owing to its situation, a commercial centre of no small importance. It was on the great highway from the interior of Asia, and from Damascus to the seaboard Mediterranean cities, to Jerusalem, and to Egypt. The custom-house of Capernaum and the office of inland revenue there would naturally be under the control of officials of some importance. The local trade on the lake, too, we know at that period was very large. It has been frequently asked—What specially induced our Lord to select as one of his inner circle a man whose life-work was so hateful and unpopular to the Jewish people generally? why did he include in the twelve one who, from the nature of his detested office, had lost religious caste among the Jews, and who was compelled to consort with sinners, Gentiles, and persons who were considered, either from their birth or life and associations, outside the pale of the chosen people? Various replies to this question have been suggested, such as—by this open act he threw down the gauntlet to all that powerful Pharisee class who were beginning to suspect and to mistake his teaching and liberalism. Or was his apparently strange choice dictated by a simple desire to have, in the inner circle of his devoted friends, a business man—one who could manage the affairs and regulate the economy of the little growing society? but this seems to have been done by Judas; or was it simply done in obedience to a sudden impulse from on High? None of these seems satisfactory. Surely another motive, and that a deeper and a nobler one, suggested this enrolment of the despised publican in that glorious company of apostles. The Lord was determined to show, by this choice of his, that in his eyes all callings were equally honourable, all ways of life might lead to the city of the blessed. Never would the work ennoble the man, but only the way in which the work was done. The Baptist, as we have seen, first taught this Divine liberalism. The Baptist's Lord placed his seal of approval upon his servant's teaching by such acts as the calling of Matthew the publican, and feasting in his house with publicans and sinners.
He left all, rose up, and followed him. No doubt a hard and difficult bit of self-renunciation. He, at the bidding of the homeless, landless Teacher, gave up his lucrative employment, sacrificing all his life of promotion, of future wealth and position, exposing himself, doubtless, to sneers and calumny. With great truth could he re-echo his friend Peter's words, "Lo, we have left all, and followed thee."
And Levi made him a great feast in his own house. There is no doubt that this Levi was the same person as Matthew the publican (subsequently the evangelist), whose calling under precisely similar circumstances is related in the First Gospel. The name Matthew, "gift of God," was probably given to him, as that of Peter (or Cephas, "a rock") was bestowed on Simon, after his association with Jesus. The words used, "a great feast," a great company, plainly indicate that Levi (Matthew)was a person of consideration and position. And there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. The great company was owing to the fact that the publicans and their friends, moved by the kindness and friendship of the new Teacher, assembled at the feast in numbers out of respect to him; or, more likely, the assemblage was owing to the effort of Levi (Matthew) to bring into friendly relations his associates and friends and the new Master, for whose sake he had given up everything.
But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples. Many of the older authorities here omit "their" αὐτῶν before "scribes." The older authorities vary slightly in the position of the words here. The best reading and translation would give, "The Pharisees and the scribes among them"—"among them," that is, among the Capernaites; in other words, "They among them who were Pharisees and scribes." These scribes (Hebrew, sopherim), under this appellation, first appear after the Exile. Their occupation was to copy and to expound the Law. They were the recognized teachers of the Jews, and seem to have succeeded that great and influential class or order, the "sons of the prophets," originally founded by Samuel. These "sons of the prophets" are repeatedly mentioned in the books of the Old Testament which treat of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The scribes were succeeded, in the year 300 b.c., by the tanaim (repeaters), under which name the scribes were officially, though apparently not popularly, known until a.d. 220, after which date these scribes were termed amoraim. The Talmud (Mishna and Gemara) may be said to have been the work of this great and enduring teacher order. The Talmud was finally closed in a.d. 490, by Rabbina Abina, the last of the amoraim. Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners?.
Luke 5:31, Luke 5:32
And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. This was one of those sayings of the Lord which sank very deep into the hearts of the hearers. All the three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, repeat it with very slight variations; it was evidently a favourite theme with the great first teachers who followed Christ. It has borne rich fruit in the Master's Church; for this vindication of Jesus of his conduct in going so often into the society of the moral waifs and strays of the population has been the real "foundation of all those philanthropic movements which enlist the upper classes of society in the blessed work of bending down to meet in love the lower classes, so that the snapped circle of humanity may be restored; it is the philosophy in a nutshell of all home and missionary operations".
The teaching of the Lord concerning fasting.
And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink? We learn from the parallel passage in St. Mark that "they" who asked the Lord this question were the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees, who united on this occasion. These disciples of John do not seem at first to have regarded Jesus with altogether friendly feelings. Such a jealousy was only too natural, and the rigid, unbending truthfulness of the evangelists compelled them to tell the story of the way the early foundations of the truth were laid without concealment of error or mistake. The Baptist himself practised the sternest asceticism, and required doubtless of his nearest followers that they should imitate his example. The Lord's way of life, his presence at feastings and merry-makings, his consorting with publicans, his choice of one of them as his disciple and friend, no doubt surprised and disturbed not a few of the followers of John; hence such a question as the one we are now considering, and such a querulous complaining as we hear of in the Fourth Gospel (John 3:25, John 3:26). The practice of fasting among the Jews was as follows: In the Law of Moses only one appointed fast in the year was enjoined—that on the sole Day of Atonement (Le John 16:29; Numbers 29:7). After the Exile the one fast was increased to four. But the prophets gave no sanction to this added ritual (see Zechariah 7:1-12; Zechariah 8:19). In the time of our Lord, rigid Jews used to fast twice a week (Luke 18:12)—on Monday and Friday (the day on which, according to tradition, Moses went up Mount Sinai). It is evident that our Lord himself never observed or even approved of these fasts of the Pharisee sect. In the well-known and often-quoted passages, Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29; Acts 10:30; 1 Corinthians 7:5—in many of the older authorities, the word 'fasting' does not occur at all. In the Revised Version in each of these instances "fasting" does not appear in the new text. While, then, we must unhesitatingly conclude that fasting is no rite commanded by the Blessed One, still the Church has practised it with signal advantage and profit on certain solemn occasions; but it must ever proceed from the impulse of the sorrow-stricken heart, it must be no penance or duty imposed by authority, least of all must it be regarded as pleasing in the eye of the Almighty, or in any sense a substitute for the practice of the higher virtues really loved of God—justice, mercy, and truth.
Luke 5:34, Luke 5:35
And he said unto them Can ye make the children of the bride-chamber fast, while the bridegroom is With them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. On this reply of the Lord Jesus Godet very beautifully writes. "In the midst of this feast of publicans, the heart of Jesus is overflowing with joy; it is one of the hours when his earthly life seems to his feeling like a marriage-day. But suddenly his countenance becomes overcast: the shadow of a painful vision passes across his brow: 'The days will come,'… said he, in a solemn tone. At the close of this nuptial week, the Bridegroom himself will be suddenly smitten and cut off; then will come the time of fasting for those who to-day are rejoicing; there will be no necessity to enjoin it. In this striking and poetic answer Jesus evidently announces his violent death." The imagery of the bridegroom is drawn from Hosea 2:19, Hosea 2:20, and perhaps also from the more mystical Scripture, Psalms 45:1-17. and the Song of Songs. Jesus here clearly regards himself as the Christ, as identical with the long looked-for Divine Deliverer; but at this comparatively early stage of his public career he was fully conscious that in his Person, with the triumphant would be joined the suffering Messiah. The word rendered "shall be taken away from (them)," ἀπαρθῆ, only occurs here in the New Testament; it points evidently to a death of violence. While the intimation given to Nicodemus (John 3:14) was the first private, so this seems to have been the first public announcement of the last scene of the earth-life.
And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. Oriental teaching has ever delighted in using these vivid and picturesque metaphors and parables taken from the everyday life of the people; here the reference is, of course, to the question put by the. Pharisees and John's disciples respecting fasting. This and the following little parable, and the curious simile which he added directly after, is part of the Lord's answer to his questioners. They charged him in their query with throwing (by the neglect of fasting) a slur on the time-honoured practices and observances of the most religious men of Israel. His reply acknowledged that, as far as he was concerned, they were right. He had quietly put aside the rigidly appointed fasts and other ceremonial rites by means of which the great Jewish teachers—to use their own expression—had put a hedge about the Law. They were right, too, in the conclusion they had come to, implied but not expressed, in their evidently hostile questioning. His was a totally new form of the old Hebrew' religon—new altogether in the grandeur of its conception and in the breadth of its influence. His was a totally new garment that he was about to offer to the people; now to patch up the beautiful new work with the old one would be surely to mar both. In the older authorities the text is slightly longer and more vivid than the text from which our own more corrupt Authorized Version was translated. It would run thus: "No one rending a patch from a new garment putteth it upon an old garment."
Luke 5:37, Luke 5:38
And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. In these two verses the Greek words rendered "bottles" properly signify "wine-skins." These leathern bottles throughout Syria and Palestine are generally made of goat-skins. They are still of universal use; the simile of the "old bottles" refers to "wine-skins" old and frail, which had been long in use, and hence nearly worn out; such "skins," after long usage, are in the habit of getting seamed and cracked. (Farrar, in an elaborate ex-cursus, urges that must, and not wine in the ordinary sense, i.e. the fermented juice of the grape, is signified in the parable here, grape-juice in the form of unfermented must being much used as a favourite drink in the East. This suggestion, although ingenious and interesting, does not seem necessary to explain the imagery used; it seems more natural to understand wine in its ordinary meaning.) The "new wine" here represents the teaching of Jesus in all its freshness, originality, and power, and the "wine-skins" the men who are to receive from the Master the great principle of his doctrine. Now, the recognized teachers in Israel, termed scribes and rabbis, or doctors of the Law, were wedded to the old interpretation of the Law—were hampered by traditions, sayings of the Fathers, elaborate ritual observances, prejudices, narrowness, bigotry. The vast collection of the Talmud, where wise words on the same page are crowded out with childish sayings, well represents the teaching of these scribes and rabbis. Never would Jesus entrust to these narrow and prejudiced representatives of a worn-out religious school his new, fresh, generous doctrines. It would indeed be pouring new wine into old, decayed, worn-out wine-vessels. The new wine must be deposited in new wine-skins. His doctrine must be entrusted to no rabbi of Israel, fettered by a thousand precedents, hampered by countless prejudices, but to simple unprejudiced men, who would just receive his teaching, and then pass it on pure and unadulterated to other simple, truthful souls—men earnest, loyal, devoted, like his fisher-friends of Gennesaret, or his publican-follower of Capernaum. He needs, as Godet well phrases it—changing, though, the imagery of Jesus—"fresh natures, new men … fair tablets on which his hand may write the characters of Divine truth, without coming across the old traces of a false human wisdom. 'God, I thank thee because thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes'"
No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better. St. Luke alone of the first three evangelists who related in detail this most important reply of Jesus when the disciples of John and the Pharisees came to question him, adds this curious simile. The meaning of the parable-pictures of the new patch being sewn on an old garment, and of new wine being poured into worn-out, decaying wine-skins, was very plain. Pitilessly severe it would ring in the ears of men brought up in the old rabbinic Jewish schools. The two first evangelists, conscious of the truth of their Master's words, were content to leave the stern teaching, which pronounced the old state of things among the religious Jews as utterly worn-out, in all its naked severity. But Paul, under whose guidance we believe Luke wrote his Gospel, with that tender and considerate love which so beautifies the earnest and impassioned nature of the apostle of the Gentiles, knew that Jesus had added a few words to the two seemingly harsh parables; these he bade Luke carefully insert in his narrative. They contain what may be termed an almost playful apology for the slowness and reluctance of the men trained in the rabbinic schools, or even of the pupils of John the Baptist, to accept the new, broad, generous view of truth which he (Jesus) was putting forth—it was an apology for a slowness and reluctance, shading too often into unveiled dislike and open hostility. (What experience Paul and Luke must have had of this hostility!) The Master, in his Divine wisdom, knew how hard it was to forsake long-cherished prejudices. Time must be given, allowance must be made, harsh judgment must be deprecated. These men, trained in the old system, are here compared to guests who, after the banquet, are suddenly asked to change the old wine, mellowed by age, of which they have been drinking, for new sweet wine. This new wine seems, in those days, generally to have been considered preferable, but to men who had been drinking the old, age-softened vintage, the new would seem fiery and even harsh. The Greek word rendered in the Authorized Version "better," in the older authorities is positive instead of comparative. The translation should therefore run," the old is good." The argument would be the same: Why change what we have been drinking for something new? surely the old wine is good? Such passages as Nehemiah 10:35; Proverbs 3:10; Hosea 4:11; Haggai 1:11, bear out the above statement, that in those days, among the Jews of Syria, Palestine, and the adjacent countries, new sweet wine was a favourite beverage among wine-drinkers.
The call to be fishers of men.
Each of the missionary circuits of Christ has its special features of interest. The first of these circuits is distinguished by three miracles significant of his work as the Christ of God. Look at the miracle of the draught of fishes, with the narrative to which it is related, as a record illustrative first of personal conversion, and secondly of the ministry of the New Testament.
I. AN ILLUSTRATION OF PERSONAL CONVERSION.
1. There is already a faith. The four men whom the Lord calls had heard his voice on the banks of Jordan (John 1:35-43), and had followed him. They had journeyed with him in Judaea, and even, it would seem, had baptized in his Name. But, after the return of Jesus to Galilee from the Passover-keeping noticed in John 5:1-47., they had gone back to their homes and their usual callings. They believed in him, but they did not realize the constraint of a supreme influence. They did not hold themselves as solemnly engaged to him. It was this engagement to be his, going where he went, and dwelling where he dwelt, which was the work of the day by the Lake of Gennesaret. Now, see in this a reminder that there may be a belief sincere and true so far as it goes, which prepares for, but which is not, the faith unto salvation. It establishes a certain intellectual relation to Christ, but nothing more. The effectual call is still wanting—the call, i.e., to an entire self-surrender, leaving all and following him.
2. There is a sovereignty of grace in this call. Of this sovereignty there is much to remind us in the passage under review. The great crowd is before the Teacher as he stands by the lake. Of the many boats drawn up on the beach, he selects two; of the two he chooses Simon's. Another evangelist reminds us that out of the multitude he saw two brethren, and again he saw other two brethren. He saw and he spoke; there is the look and there is the word. "The Lord looked on Gideon, and said, Go in this thy might." All that is done is done so easily. Almost a chance, it might be said. There is he, and there are they; he at his work, and they at theirs. It was no chance. It was Christ's opportunity; it was their opportunity. "Follow me!" is the command of his royalty. Such was he then, such is he still. In the crowd he individualizes. The soul found by him asks," Whence knowest thou me?" He knows his sheep, and is known of them. He calleth his own sheep by name.
3. There is an instant response. Christ's call is "Now;" "To-day if ye will hear his voice." The answer is "Now;" "Today;" "Lord, here am I send me"—an unreserved, uncalculating surrender, body, soul, and spirit, to Jesus. The net is left, and, mark, the net that has just been or is just being cast into the sea—the net on which so much had been spent, Net and father too. He will not come with them. "Farewell, then; not less do we love you; but he is nearer than father and mother, and his word is, 'Follow me!'" This is conversion—the turning of the face of the life to the eternal Lord; the acceptance of God's Beloved, in the consciousness of acceptance in the Beloved; the election, as the mark towards which to press, of the calling of God in Christ Jesus. "Thy people offer themselves willingly in the day of thy power."
II. But, secondly, see in the miracle which follows A PICTURE OF THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIAN MINISTRY.
1. A conviction which gives intensity to it. Simon Peter, in the light of Jesus' presence and power, falls down at his knees, crying, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" The cry in its matter was foolish, but the spirit which prompted it was true. For the first time he had realized his own unworthiness. Had he not all but given Jesus up? Had he not lived a poor, dull, earthly life? Who was he, that the Lord of glory should have sat in his boat, that he should have been in any way identified with him? It is not the "depart" of a will that refuses the Lord; it is the self-loathing heart-cry, "Lord, I am vile; what canst thou see in me?" The same heart-cry as that which burst from Isaiah when he saw the Lord and heard the antiphon of the seraphim, "Woe is me!.., for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." It is in such prostration that the lips are touched by the seraph, and the live coal is laid on them, and the "Fear not; thine iniquity is taken away" is spoken, and the hitherto unprophetic tongue is loosed. In the service which springs out of this humility there is always the sign of the baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
2. An incident which declares the secret of ministry.
"There is a Stay—and we are strong;
Our Master is at hand."
"Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come on you."
3. Finally, an action which manifests the eternal loving-kindness. To obey the Master is no thankless service. Leave the net; yes; but we follow him to whom the spacious sea belongs. Could the brethren whom he called doubt that he was able to make all grace abound always in all things? Have not we the certainty that there is a love which sees us as
"We watch our nets alone
In drenching spray, and driving shower,
And hear the night-bird's moan"?
We toil; let us ask our hearts if they have been satisfied, How many confess, even in the midst of abundance, that the toil has been only "vanity, and a striving after wind"! Nay; but let Christ enter the life, let him be the Leader and Commander, let him indicate whether the net should be cast; then shall the emptiness be filled out of an infinite fulness.
The power present to heal.
In the setting forth of facts, there is another principle of guidance than chronology. We may group them around some thoughts with the view of illustrating the meaning and scope of the thought. On this principle let us regard the events related from the twelfth verse to the twenty-sixth. What they evidence is the power of the Lord that was working in Jesus as a power of healing. Strange, blessed things we shall see to-day.
I. THE WORK OF SALVATION AS REALIZED IN THE LEPER. (Luke 5:12-14.) He is "full of leprosy," a mass of corruption, dying bit by bit. Notice the cry of this miserable outcast. When the father of the epileptic child met the Lord on his descent from the Mount of Transfiguration, the voice of his agony was, "If thou canst do anything, have mercy on us and help us." Jesus replied, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." He had not yet got to the mountain of faith, and the father says with tears, "Lord, I believe; but oh, help me to that mountain-height, help thou mine unbelief." This wretched leper is already on the mountain height. It is not, "If thou canst," but "If thou wilt." The Jewish proverb was, "As God sends the leprosy, so God alone can heal it." God is in this Jesus; therefore he can. Such was the logic. How he had seen the secret of the Lord, we do not know; but the trust was his—it had been sown into his heart in the urgency of his need. Now, mark the response. Sometimes the Lord seems to tarry. But in this case the way is quite ready for the blessing. "We are never told," says Dr. Farrar, "that there was a moment's pause when a leper cried to him." "If thou wilt." "I will." And the touch. To touch a leper was an infraction of law. He had to withdraw into the wilderness immediately afterwards. He did not wish to provoke any violent opposition. But he broke the ceremonial law at the demand of a higher law—the law whose source is the Divine compassion, and whose agent is the power present to heal. The foul body could not pollute the hand; but the hand of the Infinite Purity could cleanse the foul body. "Be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him." How wonderfully this strange thing brings out what is characteristic of the Saviour in his thoughts and ways to the sinner! None is beyond the reach of the love that could bid away at once and for ever that leprosy. No cry can escape the ear of a love that has the answering "I will" ready for the praying "If thou wilt." We have a High Priest who has touched our sin in its exceeding sinfulness. For ever and ever there stands the pledge of the world's Healer "I will: be thou clean."
II. But see THE SAME WORK REALIZED IN "THE MAN THAT WAS PALSIED." The time is "one of those days that he was teaching." A crowd has gathered so great that "there is no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door." In this crowd there are Pharisees and doctors of the Law sitting by. Significantly it is added, "The power of the Lord was present to heal." A notable instance of this power is supplied; its occasion being the letting down of the pallet-bed, on which was laid the paralytic, through the tiles into the midst of the crowd before Jesus. There is no resisting of such faith. Seeing it, the Healer says—what? "Man, thy sins are forgiven thee." Now, as to this fulfilment of the imperial "I will," which proceeds from the compassion of the Lord, remark:
1. The work which represents the supreme Saviour—blessing. "That ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins." He will listen to the appeal made in behalf of the palsied man; but there is a palsy hidden and spiritual with which first he must deal, for until it is dealt with there can be no effectual healing. Yes; the true healing begins within. "Create a clean heart." And the point at which the Redeemer lays hold of us is the need of forgiveness. This action of Christ is the first in which he makes himself fully known, the first in which his spiritual authority is declared. And from this moment the organized opposition of scribe and Pharisee dates. "His kingdom ruleth over all." All agencies of relief and kindness are his, and are to be used in his name; but his kingdom is the kingdom of heaven to all believers, because the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins.
2. The condition on which the power of Christ is realized. "When he saw their faith." Observe, not his faith. No one, it is true, can stand proxy for another as to salvation. There must be the personal touch of Christ; and the narrative, when attentively regarded, shows that Jesus secured this from the sufferer. He helped out the sick man's trustfulness; he established a relation with himself. And then and thus he did exceeding abundantly above all that could be asked. But he does attach value to faith in friends for another friend, in the loving for the loved, in those who have salvation for those who have not. Think of the four bearing the weak and wanting man, seeking the means to realize the blessing for him, their interest wholly unselfish, and unresting until the doure man is really brought to Jesus. Oh, is not this the miniature of the Church of Christ in its intercession and labour for heathendom, for the sick and perishing through lack of knowledge? Should it not indicate the truth to be exemplified in the anxiety of parents as to their children? Should it not remind us of the highest aim of all relatives of friendship or confidence? Jesus does" perceive" this faith. It is the security of blessing unspeakable; for
"So the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God."
Were there more of this faith, there would be more abundant sign of "the power of the. Lord present to heal."
3. The hindrance and limitation of the power of the Lord. 'Pharisees and doctors of the Law sitting by," and the power present. It is always present with the word of his grace. We never need to seek it as if it were sometimes here and sometimes there. But these Pharisees and doctors are not healed. The grace is present for them too, but they do not realize it. They sit by as spectators, critics, censors, watching for grounds of reproach and accusation. "The word of hearing did not profit them, because they were not united by faith with them that heard." Is not this the limitation still? Are there not many in our assemblies who, like these Pharisees, "sit by"? They scarcely believe what is said. As old Matthew Henry writes, "It is to them a tale that is told them, not a message that is sent them. They are willing that we should preach before them, not that we should preach to them." It is this sitting by which checks the work of grace. More and more, as the ministry of Christ proceeds, does the shadow of the Pharisees sitting by fall on it. A withering, desolating shadow. Thou Pharisee of town and village, thou critic, sceptic, thy seat the seat of the scornful. Mighty power to heal may be present, but mighty work of healing cannot be done in thee until the story of the Pharisee of the Pharisees is repeated in thee, and thy self-sufficiency smitten down, thou art cast to the earth, to ask, trembling and astonished, "Who art thou, Lord?"
The new and the old.
Two classes of persons are amazed and offended—those to whom old ways and recognized canons of respectability were of the very essence of the religious life; and those whose minds occupied a sort of intermediate position, who had so far broken from the old, but had not yet received the spirit of the new time which had begun in Galilee. Here is this Rabbi, whose fame has spread far and wide, who is undoubtedly possessed of marvellous powers, associating with persons whom every respectable Hebrew shunned, accepting a tax-gatherer's invitation, and freely mingling with the worthless folk found at a tax-gatherer's table. What an outrage on social and religious decency! The scribes and Pharisees—the one of these two classes—murmur (observe, against the disciples; they do not dare to the Lord himself), "Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?" The disciples, simple, guileless souls, were probably unable to explain or account for their Master. He himself replies by quoting an Old Testament Scripture—one of those great prophetic words which express the spirit of all true religion, and prefacing and following this quotation by sentences of searching irony. "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." How significant is every clause! "They that are whole." Will the murmurers take that description as appropriate to them? Then the Jesus whom they surround has nothing for them; his work is not for the self-righteous, but for the consciously sinful and needy. But "whoso" would be teachers of the people as they may be, let them go and learn the first lesson of Divine wisdom, viz. that it is the delight of God's love to find out fatherless souls; that he is satisfied, not by formal acts of worship, rendered in mere obedience to usage, but by the seeking of poor outcasts from ordinance and society, by such fellowship with them as reveals the purpose, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." Now comes the moment at which, along with the Pharisees, the other of the two offended classes—those occupying an intermediate position between the old and the new—appears on the scene. Some disciples of the Baptist have been scanning the movements of the Prophet of Nazareth, and the feast just held gives increased force to their doubts and difficulties. The joyous life which Jesus and his followers are living contrasts with the sternly simple, ascetic life which they have been taught to regard as the best. Can the joyous life be right? Why the disregard of the outward signs of discipline? Why is he so lax with those whom he has called? The answer returned has an abiding interest for the Church in all times. First, observe Christ's word with regard to the special issue raised; and, secondly, observe his setting forth of the general truth as to his gospel and kingdom.
I. THE SPECIAL ISSUE IS FASTING. Jesus does not deny its utility. He fasted. Moreover, in his sermon from the mount, he recognized fasting as one of the elements of the religious life. What his saying bears on is its observance as a fixed habit or rule. The time, the rule, Christ teaches, must come from within. He goes to the root of the matter when he asks, "Can the children of the bridechamber mourn?" There is nothing if there is not mourning. Mere non-eating is nothing; mere austerities are nothing. Self-denial for the sake of self-denial is nothing. It is the relation to spiritual ends, the power of interpreting and helping spiritual life, that gives any service its value. "How can you make these children mourn while I am with them? Their fasting, at present, would be wholly artificial. It is the worship in spirit and truth that I want. When they can really mourn, they will. Until then, let them rejoice." The days did come. The Bridegroom was taken from them. And they mourned. and still, as then, there are, as one has called them, "fast-days which God appoints souls." Christ's disciples should have their retreats, when the round of pleasure or of care is given up, and the blessing of entire solitude with God is realized. Only, let these be, not because of a law made for them, but because of the law which the Lord, by the dealing of his Holy Spirit, writes within their own hearts. And, supposing the space for such retreats cannot be secured, remember there is a fasting which all can practise. All can abstain from self-pleasing and indulgence. All may consider whether it be not a duty to abstain from things lawful when the use of such things is an occasion of stumbling to their brethren. And all should recollect the grand old words, "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?"
II. THE WORD AS TO FASTING BRINGS INTO SIGHT THE WHOLE QUESTION AS TO THE REQUIREMENTS AND THE NATURE OF THE TRUTH AS IT IS IN JESUS, Glance at the outstanding features of the ever-memorable parable between the thirty-sixth and the thirty-ninth verses.
1. The bearing of the sentence as to patching. The disciples of John and the Pharisees virtually ask that Jesus sew the new cloth, which is woven out of his Person and sacrifice, into an old rotten garment. The answer is "No; what has decayed and is waxing old is ready to vanish; let it go. When it comes to this, patching and mending is worthless policy. It does not benefit the old, whilst it spoils the new. The new will not hold to the seam of the old, and, when it gives way, not only is the rent made worse, but in the end the new must be rejected also." What is particularly meant by the similitude of the garment is the manner of life, that which forms the envelopment of the soul. As to this, Christ will have no patching. Christianity is not Judaism with something sewn on to it. It is not a conglomerate of religions. It comprehends all that is good anywhere. It destroys nothing. But it is a new robe. All that is old is made new. And so must it be with the character. It is not a mere amending at this point or at that that will suffice. Merely to sew a piece of the new cloth, to have a fragment of Christ's religion patched to the old self, will that suffice? Verily no. Put off the old man. Put on the new. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature."
2. The bearing of the sentence as to wine. By this, as it would seem, the Lord means the inward spiritual principle, the grace—"that best wine which goeth down smoothly, gliding through the lips of those that are asleep." This is not some compound of dregs of old wines; it has all the strength and flavour of the old, but it is new. It is the fruit of a grape which none but the Son of God could bruise; it is the product of a wine-press which none but he could tread; it has the power of a sustenance which none but he could infuse. And this new life must be put into new bottles. It demands forms of worship and action peculiar to itself—forms of worship adapted at once to the richness of the sentiments and the simplicity of its utterance, the natural and becoming vehicles of its own voice of prayer and praise; forms of action in harmony at once with its spirituality and its humanity. It is too living and strong for any receptacle of its influence except that which has been created for and by itself. New wine and new bottles. Let the hearer of the Word ponder this. Note the point of junction between liberty and discipline in the Christian life. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." But to realize this liberty, the will presented to the Lord must be so opened and ordered that the movements of his love shall flow in, and the power of his grace shall be fulfilled. It is all of grace, but the new bottle is needed for the new wine. The Lord is very decided as to this. The principle of an entire subjection to God must be asserted over every impeding tendency. In our present state pains must go with prayers, that the heart be kept "believing, true, and clean," a wineskin fit for the new wine. Hereafter, in the eternal year of the Bridegroom-joy, it shall be otherwise. Then, they who wait upon the Lord shall "ran, and not be weary; and walk, and not faint."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The passage is one of encouragement to-those who have been labouring in the cause of truth and righteousness, and whose success has not been according to their hope. We have a picture of—
I. FRUITLESS TOIL. "We have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing;" words that have not only been on the lips of the unsuccessful fisherman, but often enough on those of the weary Christian workman—the pastor, the evangelist, the teacher, the philanthropist, the missionary. Weeks, months, even years, may go by, and nothing or little may have resulted. Especially is this the case in missionary labour among savages, or where venerable systems of superstition prevail. The workman goes through all stages, of lessened hope, of surprise at non-success, of disappointment, of despondency, until he may get down very near to despair.
II. THE COMMAND TO CONTINUE. Under discouragement and apparent defeat there frequently enters the thought of abandonment. The worker says, "I will lay down my weapon; it is useless to proceed. I must have better soil, or it must have a more skilful hand." But when this thought is being entertained there comes a manifestation of the Master, who by some means and in some language, says, "Go, labour on: toil on and faint not." To the "fisher of men" he says, "Let down your nets for a draught." This command to continue may cause us to reflect upon:
1. Our Lord's own example; for he laboured on most diligently and patiently under heavy and sore discouragements.
2. The ample means placed at our disposal with which to work for Christ and men; the glorious fulness and fitness of the gospel of the grace of God.
3. The near presence and promised aid of the Holy Spirit.
4. The inestimable value of the souls we seek to save. But whencesoever suggested, the voice we hear is imperative, Divine, "Go, labour on."
III. THE SPIRIT AND ACT OF OBEDIENCE.
1. We may be indisposed to resume; we may feel, as Peter evidently did on this occasion, that there is nothing to be taken by our toil; that for all practical purposes we might as well leave the field.
2. But Christ's will is decisive. Against that there is no appeal. "At thy word I will let down the net." This is the true spirit of obedience. To work for Christ under every possible encouragement is easy and simple enough; perhaps it may not take high rank in heaven so far as its spiritual greatness is concerned. To continue at our post under every discouragement, because we believe it is the will of our Lord that we should still strive and sow—that is the trying, the honourable, the acceptable thing. It may be remarked that:
3. Obedience to our Lord is not inconsistent with a wise change of method. Launch out "into the deep." They were to cast their net into the likeliest waters.
"Cast after cast, by force or guile,
All waters must be tried."
(See Keble's hymn, "The livelong night we've toil'd in vain.")
If one method does not succeed, we must try another. We must not ascribe to God a failure which is due to our own inefficiency. We must not ask and expect his blessing unless we are doing our best in his Name and in his cause.
IV. THE LARGE REWARD. "When they had this done," etc. Patient, obedient work wrought for Jesus Christ will certainly meet with its recompense. "Refrain thine eyes from tears, and thy voice from weeping, for thy work shall be rewarded." We may 'go forth weeping," but we shall doubtless "come again with rejoicing." The success may come:
1. After much labour and prayer and waiting.
2. In a way in which we did not expect it.
3. Only in part while we are here to rejoice in it; 'for often "one soweth and another reapeth." But sooner or later, in one form or another, here or hereafter, it will come; our net will "enclose a great multitude of fishes;" our hearts will be full, even to overflow, with joy and gratitude.—C.
The soul shrinking from God.
It was the coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ that excited in the breast of the apostle such shrinking of soul. Peter perceived that he stood in the presence of One in whom was Divine power, of One who was in very close association with the Holy One of Israel; and, feeling his own unworthiness, he exclaimed, with characteristic candour of impulsiveness, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
I. THE WAY IN WHICH GOD NOW MANIFESTS HIMSELF TO THE WORLD. That way is threefold.
1. Nature and providence. The heavens declare his glory, and so does this wonderful and beautiful and fruitful earth. Not less so do the souls and the lives of men, created with all their faculties, preserved and enriched with all their joys and blessings. "The invisible things of him … are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made." But more than this was proved to be needed by the sad, dark history of man kind. Hence we have:
2. Special revelation. "At sundry times and in divers manners God spake unto our fathers" by Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, etc.; but at a later time he spake unto us by his Son—by his life, his truth, his sorrow, his death, his resurrection. But this did not suffice. Divine love appeared, and human hatred slew it. Divine truth spake, and human error determinately rejected it. So God gives us what we need.
3. The direct influences of his Holy Spirit, to arouse, to quicken, to enlighten, to renew us.
II. THE FIRST EFFECT UPON THE SOUL OF THIS VISION OF GOD. What usually happens is that the soul is smitten with a sense of its sinfulness, and desires to withdraw from the Divine presence. At this we need not wonder. If conscious ignorance shrinks from great learning, poverty from great wealth, obscurity from high rank, human guilt from human purity, well may the consciously sinful soul of man shrink from the near presence of the thrice-holy God. As Adam and Eve hid themselves when they "heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden;" as Isaiah exclaimed, "Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips," when he "saw the Lord" in the temple;—so do we shrink from the felt presence of the Lord in view of our own unworthiness and guilt. Remembering our spiritual estrangement, our great undischarged indebtedness to God, our impurity of heart in his sight, our manifold transgressions of his righteous law,—our souls tremble before him; and if we do not say, "Depart from me, O Lord!" as Peter did, yet our first thought is to escape from his felt presence, to put some distance, in thought and feeling, between ourselves and that Holy and Mighty One in whose power we stand so absolutely, and whose Spirit we have grieved so greatly.
III. THE INTERPOSITION OF OUR SAVIOUR. The sacred record does not state what immediately ensued, but our instructed imagination will very readily supply the remainder of the incident. We are quite sure that our gracious Master, instead of acting on Peter's word, and leaving him, drew nearer to him, and "took him by the hand," and so reassured him. Thus does he treat us now. Instead of withdrawing from us when we know and feel our guilt, he comes nearer to us. Instead of saying to us, "Depart from me!" he says, earnestly and emphatically, "Come unto me!" He says to us, "If, in my teaching and in my life and in my death, there is (as there is) the strongest possible condemnation of sin, so is there also in all these things, in my words and my actions and my cross, the greatest possible hope for the sinner. Come unto me; see in me the Propitiation for your sin, the Way back unto the Father the Divine Friend and Helper of the sorrowing and struggling human soul. Do not leave me; come to me, and abide in me!"—C.
Luke 5:12, Luke 5:13
The cleansed leper.
Three points suggest themselves to our thoughts.
I. THE WAVERING OF A STRONG HUMAN HOPE. Outside the outer circumference of that congregation was a man to whom pity would have drawn us, but from whom an instinctive repugnance would have repelled us. He was one in whom were not only signs and spots of that dire plague of leprosy, but in whom it was seen in its most virulent form—he was "full of leprosy." Suffering in body, and afflicted far worse in mind by the terrible isolation which that disease imposed, there suddenly enters his heart a new and bounding hope; in the dense darkness of his night there rises that morning star. A new Prophet has come to the people of God. He hears of his Name and fame (Luke 4:37); he comes to see; he witnesses the wonderful works which are wrought (Luke 4:40). Will not this great Healer have mercy upon him? Will not he who casts out the devil cure the leper? If the poor paralytic, at his bidding, could rise and walk away with his friends, why should not he, at the command of that strong Voice, be healed of his foul disease, and go home to his family again? So he comes where Jesus is, and listens as he speaks, and when he hears him say, "Ask, and it shall be given you," he resolves that he will ask that a new life may be given him; he will seek: what if he should find? We have never made to man any request on which so much has hung as that which was now hanging on the answer he should receive at the lips of Jesus Christ. To him it was not success or failure merely; it was life or death that was at stake. How must the most eager expectation have wrestled in his heart with tremulous and agonizing fear! with what faltering voice must he have uttered those prayerful words, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean"!
II. THE TOUCH OF THE DIVINE HAND. "Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him." All three evangelists record this significant fact. There were three reasons why he should not do this.
1. Strong instinctive human aversion.
2. The risk he ran in so doing.
3. The prohibition of the Law combined with social usage disallowing it.
But our Lord set aside all these objections. Why? Was it not to show by instant action the kindness and compassion of his heart, to place himself practically by his side as One who felt deeply for and with him, and to teach us that, if we wish to heal the worst disorders, we must do that, not standing afar off, but, coming into close personal contact with the men we are seeking to save, by "laying our hand upon them"? We, too, must be ready, like our Lord, to do that which is distasteful, to run some risks, to disregard conventional proprieties, if we would remove from the land the leprosies which still afflict it.
III. THE RESPONSE OF DIVINE LOVE. That leper must have known, when Jesus laid his hand kindly upon him, that he meant to heal him; yet sweeter to his ear than are the most melting strains of music to the lover of melody and song were these words of the Lord when he said, "I will: be thou clean;" and then he who "speaks, and it is done," spoke the unheard word, and forces of nature came into play, and the life-blood leapt in the leper's veins, "and immediately his leprosy departed." Sin is the leprosy of the soul.
1. It is loathsome.
2. It is diffusive, spreading from faculty to faculty over the whole nature.
3. It exiles; it separates man from God, and man from man also.
4. It is deathful; it is death in life.
When the sinful soul, though he be far gone in sin, "full of leprosy," makes his application to the great Physician, he has nothing to fear as to the result of his appeal..
Christ at prayer.
The fact that our Lord did withdraw into the wilderness to pray, and that this was not at all a solitary instance of his devotion, may suggest—
I. THAT PRAYER BECOMES THE STRONG AND THE HOLY AS WELL AS THE WEAK AND THE GUILTY, Jesus prayed; the One who was holy, harmless, undefiled, he in whom was no sin. He had no guilt to confess, no mercy to implore, no cleansing of heart to seek of the Holy Spirit. Yet he prayed; and prayer was becoming in him because he could:
1. Render adoration to the God whom he reverenced and whom he revealed.
2. Offer gratitude to the Father who ministered unto him even as unto us.
3. Utter his love and his devotedness to him in whom he rejoiced and on whose great errand of mercy he had come.
4. Ask for the guidance and support he needed at the Divine hand for the future that was before him. For such purposes as these prayer will become us as much in the heavenly kingdom as it befits us now. When we have no sins to acknowledge and no forgiveness to obtain, we shall still need to approach the Divine Spirit to express our adoration, our gratitude, and our love; also to ask for the maintenance and the guidance of that strong hand on which, in every age and in every sphere, we shall be dependent as we are to-day.
II. THAT PRAYER IS PECULIARLY APPROPRIATE BEFORE AND AFTER ALL SPECIAL SERVICES. We have good reason to think that these were the circumstances under which our Lord spent much time in prayer. It is probable that he, under the limitations to which he stooped, found it highly desirable if not needful then. Certainly it is so for us.
1. Before special services we are in greatest need—need of strength and inspiration for the work immediately confronting us.
2. After special services we are in greatest danger; for the human spirit is never so exposed to its spiritual adversaries as in that hour when it relaxes after great spiritual excitement.
III. THAT IT IS NEEDFUL TO SEEK AND TO FIND OPPORTUNITIES FOR PRAYER. Jesus Christ could not have poured out his heart to his Father as he did, and gained the refreshment and strength he gained in prayer, if he had remained in the midst of the curious and exacting throngs who waited upon him. He withdrew himself into the wilderness. We have intimation that he had to make a very strenuous effort to escape from the multitudes and to secure the seclusion he desired. But he made it. And we shall be wise if we do the same. If we only draw near to God and have fellowship with him when we happen to be left alone, and when occasions offer themselves to us, we shall be very lacking in our devotion; the flame of our piety will languish on the altar of our heart. We must make occasion; we must seize opportunity; 'we must compel our life to yield the still hour, when, withdrawing ourselves into solitude, we are alone with God.
IV. THAT IF NEEDFUL TO OUR LORD, HOW MUCH MORE NECESSARY MUST SUSTAINED DEVOTION BE TO OURSELVES! If purity needed to pray, how much more need has guilt! if strength, how much more weakness! if wisdom, how much more ignorance and folly! If our Master did not go forth to great trials or temptations without first attuning his spirit and renewing his strength in the near presence of his Father, how much less shall we venture into the arduous and perilous future without first equipping ourselves at the sacred armoury, without first casting ourselves on God and drawing sustaining and overcoming vigour from his infinite resources!—C.
One of the noblest of the psalms commences with that verse which it would have been well worth while to have lived a long and stormy life to have written, "God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in trouble." Who can estimate the thousands of thousands of tempest-tossed human souls to whom these words have brought help and comfort! The latter part of this passage is in very close relation to our text. It brings before our minds—
I. THE COMPARATIVE NEARNESS OF GOD TO US. It may indeed be objected that the Omnipresent One, being everywhere, cannot be more truly in one place than in another. Doubtless that is so. But God may be more manifestly present, and therefore more present to our consciousness, in one place than in another. So the old Hebrew worshipper felt as he drew near Jerusalem, as he entered the precincts of the temple, as he went into the court of the Jews, as he saw the priests enter the sanctuary itself. And once in the history of mankind God did so visit us that he was "manifest in the flesh;" he was "Emmanuel, God with us"—with us in a sense in which he was not before and has not been again. There is a sense in which God is nearer to us in the sanctuary and at the table of the Lord than elsewhere. He has promised to meet us there; we go there on purpose to be in his presence; therefore to our consciousness he is in a peculiar sense present with us—our very present Saviour.
II. THE PRESENCE OF HIS POWER. "The power of the Lord was present." Any Israelite of ancient time would have told you that God's power was present in the sky, in the sea, in the corn, in the rain. But he was more impressed with the power of God as manifested in the storm in harvest-time, or in the overthrow of Sennacherib's mighty host. Yet this was only in his imagination; the power of God was as truly and as graciously present in the ordinary and the regular as in the miraculous. We are inclined to think that Divine power is most manifest in the shaking thunder or in the flashing lightning, or in the upheaving earthquake; but the wiser we are, the more we "observe these things, and (consequently) understand the loving-kindness of the Lord," the more we perceive that God's power is as present in the common and the continuous as in the startling and the exceptional, is "very present" in the unfolding morning and the descending night, in the growing of the grass and the ripening of the corn and the blooming of the flowers. God's power is present with us always and everywhere, if we have but eyes to see it and hearts to feel it.
III. THE PRESENCE OF HIS HEALING POWER.
1. A very beneficent power is that of healing; perhaps we never praise God quite so feelingly as when we bless him that "he has healed our sicknesses." God has always been healing men. He has supplied us with the substances which are fitted to restore, and he has given us a bodily system of such a nature that it has great recuperative powers. There are but few among those who have reached manhood and womanhood who have not had occasion to know that the power of the Lord is present to heal us now. In the hour of convalescence they gave him the glory and offered their renewed life to him. What are they doing now that health has been restored and confirmed?
2. And this healing of the body is but the picture and the promise of the healing of the heart. When Jesus Christ went from village to village, healing all manner of diseases, it was partly, if not principally, to say to all men everywhere of every age, "Understand, ye blind souls that walk in darkness, I am the Light of the world; come to me, that you may see indeed! Ye strengthless and sick ones in need of spiritual healing, I am the Divine Restorer; come unto me, that ye may be strong indeed! Ye dying ones, I am the Resurrection and the Life; come unto me, that you may live indeed!"—C.
We learn from these words—
I. CHRIST'S CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS OWN GREATNESS. He assumes the right to forgive men their sins (Luke 5:20), and, when this right is challenged by those present, he asserts it (Luke 5:24). And he does not dispute that this is a Divine prerogative. When it is claimed that only God can forgive sins (Luke 5:21), his reply is one that confirms rather than questions that doctrine. To a very large extent our Lord's Divinity was in abeyance. Fie was voluntarily accepting limitations which caused him to be numbered among the human and the finite. But his authority and power were in him, potentially; they were under a commanding restraint. Here and there, now and again, as on this occasion, it seemed fitting that they should be put forth. And it magnifies "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," that all the while that he was stooping to such lowliness, such poverty, such endurance, he was conscious of the fact that Divine right and Divine power were within him, to be exercised when he would. The Son of man had power on earth to forgive sins.
II. HIS AUTHENTICATION OF IT. His greatness was often questioned, sometimes denied; and often our Master allowed men to think of him as the Teacher or the Prophet whom they were to judge by his life or by his doctrine. But sometimes he vindicated his claims in a way that completely silenced, if it did not convince, his critics. He authenticated himself by some deed of mighty power. He did so now. Not that the exercise of healing power was one whit more Divine an act than the forgiveness of sin; not that an act of pity for bodily incapacity was greater or worthier than one of mercy and succour to the soul. That could not be. But that the working of the miracle was a more obvious and signal indication of the Divine than an act of forgiveness. And by this gracious and mighty work our Lord proved himself to be the One who had a right to say, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." We may say that the gospel of Jesus Christ is now authenticated by its power. We are sure that the message of grace and mercy which we preach does come from God because (among other reasons for our assurance) we witness the mighty power of Christian truth. We find it doing what nothing else ever tried to do—enlightening multitudes of dark minds, redeeming and restoring foul hearts, transforming evil lives, lifting men up from the dust and the mire of sin and shame and bidding them walk in the ways of righteousness.
III. OUR APPROACH TO THE SAVIOUR. It was the approach of this man to the Lord that led to Christ's words of mercy and then to his deed of power. The man could not and would not keep away from his presence; he was resolved to make his appeal to the great Healer, cost what it might to reach his ear. This is the approach that is successful—seeking the Lord with the whole heart, with a fixed intent to seek until he is found. Not a languid interest in Christ, not a pursuit of righteousness which may be turned aside by the first curiosity or indulgence that offers itself; but a holy earnestness which will not be denied, which, if one entrance is blocked, will find another, which knocks till the door is opened,—this is the search that succeeds. Not, indeed, that Christ is hard to find or reluctant to bestow; but that, for our sake, he does often cause us to continue in our seeking that our blessedness may be the fuller and our faith the firmer and our new life the deeper for our patience and our persistency.
IV. THE SUPERABUNDANCE WHICH IS IN CHRIST. This poor paralytic sought much of the Lord, but he found a great deal more than he sought; seeking healing for his body, he found that, and with that mercy for his soul. Christ has more to give us than we count upon receiving. Many a man has gone to him asking only for present relief from a burden of conscious guilt, and he has found that salvation by faith in Jesus Christ means vastly more than that. He finds that the forgiveness of sin is the initial step of a bright and blessed future, that it is the earnest of a noble inheritance, In Christ our Lord are "unsearchable riches;" and they who have received the most have only begun to find what a world of excellency and blessedness they have gained by hearkening to his voice and hastening to his side and entering his holy service.—C.
Luke 5:27, Luke 5:28
Who can fail to be struck with—
I. THE COMMANDING AUTHORITY OF CHRIST. It will be observed that he speaks in the imperative; not "Wouldest thou," but "Do thou follow me!" He speaks, also, unconditionally, absolutely, not "Follow me if or when," but simply and without reserve, "Follow me!" Consider what large consequences would result from Matthew's choice—the complete breaking up of his old life, the forsaking of his old pursuits and of his old friends, the entering an entirely new sphere of thought and action. Yet Matthew appears to have recognized the right of Jesus Christ to make this demand of him. Must he not have acted under Divine illumination and guidance to decide so promptly and so wisely? So authoritatively and unconditionally the Saviour comes to us and summons us to his service. His claim rests on incontestable facts which prove him to be the Son of God who has a sovereign right thus to address us, to be the Son of man whose life of love and whose death of shame entitle him to ask the most and the best of us.
II. THE MEANING OF OUR SAVIOUR'S CALL, The form of service our Master desires of us when he bids us follow him is obviously different from that he asked of Matthew. What does he want of us? What is the precise thing he requires us to do? Taking, as we should take, one passage with another, we answer that he desires us to come into the closest possible union which a human spirit can sustain to the Divine; or, more specifically, he wants us cordially to accept him for all that he offers to be to our soul—to accept him as our Teacher from whom we learn all needful truth, as our Saviour in whose redeeming work we trust for God's abounding mercy, as our Lord to whom we dedicate our powers and our days, as our Divine Friend and Refuge in whom we hide.
III. THE EXCELLENCY OF AN IMMEDIATE RESPONSE. Matthew did well that he "left all, rose up, and followed him." Had he waited for another occasion, he would have been more entangled in human relationships and worldly interests; he might never have had so direct and personal an appeal made to him. As it was, by forsaking all to follow Christ, he lost a profitable calling and a company of friends; but what did he find instead?
1. The protection and friendship of Jesus Christ.
2. A new and nobler manhood, an exalted life.
3. The esteem and the gratitude of the Church of Christ for all time to come.
4. Eternal blessedness in the future. And so with us; when the Master comes and calls us, as he may do in one of a number of ways, we act most wisely when we immediately respond.
On what principle shall we regulate our intercourse with men? How shall we follow Christ in the matter of associating with our fellow-men? Our answer, suggested by this incident, is—
I. THAT ASSOCIATION WITH BAD MEN ON THE GROUND OF FRIENDSHIP IS AN UNCHRISTIAN THING. The Pharisees would have been right, enough if Jesus Christ had mingled with the mercenary and the vicious only to enjoy their company. His time might certainly have been much better spent than in partaking of so doubtful a source of satisfaction, and he would have left an example that would have been better shunned than followed. For to mingle with the irreverent and the covetous, and, still more, to associate with the positively vicious, simply for the sake of passing gratification, is:
1. To spend time and strength where they are very ill applied.
2. To lend a sanction to those who need rather to be discouraged than sustained in their course of life.
3. To incur the serious danger of being lowered to their level. Some intercourse with the frivolous and the guilty we must have, and there is every reason why our conduct toward them should be as courteous and gracious as possible. But no wise man will establish an intimate friendship with another whose spirit is the spirit of worldliness, whose conduct is that from which purity and sobriety must shrink. Let the young especially remember that lifelong association with the unholy and the unworthy, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, means gradual moral degeneracy, continual spiritual decline.
II. THAT ASSOCIATION WITH THE GOOD IN THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP IS A WISE AND WORTHY THING. "The assembling of ourselves together," as those who are agreed on the same fundamental articles of faith, and who are animated by the same spirit and are promoting the same objects, is admirable for three reasons.
1. We gain spiritual strength ourselves.
2. We impart it to those with whom we unite.
3. We commend the common principles we hold to those who are without by the manifestation of our unity.
Those who try to live a life of spiritual isolation not only make a great mistake by robbing themselves of a source of hallowed influence, but they neglect a plain duty, for they leave unemployed a weapon of usefulness by which truth and worth are materially advanced. But the main lesson of the passage is—
III. THAT ASSOCIATION WITH THE BAD FOR THEIR ELEVATION IS A DISTINCTLY CHRISTIAN THING. Those critics of Jesus Christ failed to see that the presence of a noble, unselfish motive made all the difference in the character of the act. It completely transformed it. It changed it from the unwise and the condemnable into the wise and meritorious. Our Lord mingled with publicans and sinners, not as a Companion to share their revelries, but as a Guide to lead them into other and better ways, as a Helper whose strong hand should raise them from the mire and place them upon the rock. And as he was here to seek and to save, where should he be found but among those who were lost? Where would you have the teacher? In the company of the mature and the literate, or in the schoolroom among the young and the ignorant? Where would you have the physician? In the homes of the healthy, or in the hospital and in the homes of the sick? And where should they be found who have truth to teach and restoration to impart such as no teacher of any human science can make known, no healer of bodily diseases can confer? We are never quite so Christian, we never reach a height so near the level on which our Lord was daily walking, as when we voluntarily and cheerfully forego the pleasanter security to which our character entities us, and mingle freely and frequently with those whose spirit and whose tone is offensive to our taste and our judgment, in order that we may lift them up to a nobler life. And this is the one and only way in which to work out this great and beneficent reform. What legislation will not do, what literature will not effect, what art and science will leave unaccomplished if not untouched, that a holy and loving association on the ground of Christian kindness will secure. The actual and near presence of the pure and kind, the touch and the pressure of the hand of human love, the voice of invitation and of entreaty proceeding from those whose eyes are dim with the tears of a sorrowful sympathy,—this is the power which, coming, as it does, from Jesus Christ, and emanating from his Holy Spirit, will lead sinful souls, covetous men and erring women, into paths of penitence, and raise them to heights of holiness.—C.
We have here—
I. AN HONEST DIFFICULTY FAIRLY AND EFFECTUALLY MET. It was in no carping spirit that the disciples of John came to Jesus. We do not detect a trace of ill will in their question. It was a spirit of surprise and perplexity that dictated it. They had always thought that fasting was an essential feature of true piety. Their master John had encouraged them in this idea; but they looked in vain for this feature in the doctrine of Christ. What could it mean? Our Lord met this inquiry in a very different way from that in which he might have done so. He might have said, "Where, in the books of Moses, is fasting enjoined on the people of God? On what day in all the year, excepting the Day of Atonement, is this practice prescribed? Is it not a tradition of men rather than a commandment of God?" But Jesus did not meet them thus. He said that his disciples did not fast because fasting on their part would be untimely, unsuitable, and therefore unacceptable. "Can the children of the bridechamber," etc.? "You would not have men fast when they have every reason for feasting? you would not have men show themselves miserable when there is every ground for gladness? you would not have my disciples do such violence to their spiritual nature? You do not act," Christ goes on to say, "with such unnaturalness and incongruity in other departments of life; you do not bring together things that do not agree with one another; you do not put unwrought cloth on an old garment; you do not put new unfermented wine in old skins that will not stretch; if you did, you would pay the penalty in spoiled clothes and spilled wine. Why should, you do anything that is unfitting and incongruous in the realm of religion? If you do, you will have a serious penalty to pay. No; let my disciples rejoice while they have occasion to be glad; the days will come soon enough when they will have a heart for grieving: then will they fast in those days."
II. AN INDICATION OF THE TRUE TONE OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE. The disciples were glad of heart because their Master was "with them." To be the close companions of Jesus Christ is reason enough for a prevailing spiritual joy. As his disciples, indeed, there are certain special sources of sorrow—grief at the sin and misery of mankind, regret at our own slowness of growth and slackness of zeal, etc. But for us as his followers is
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FITTING IN THE SPHERE OF THE SACRED. We learn this, in the text, from the unwisdom of the unfitting in the sphere or' the secular. "No man putteth," etc.; if he does, he spoils his garment, and he spills his wine. So in the sphere of the spiritual: if we force the sorrowful spirit to assume the tone of the happy; or if we reverse this unnatural process, and compel the happy to affect to be sorrowful; or if we require the young to manifest piety in the forms that are suitable to the mature; or if we insist on those who have been trained in godly and virtuous habits showing the same form of repentance which we demand of the vicious and the gross;—we may secure a result which gives us momentary satisfaction, but we shall have a penalty to pay further on. The unnatural is always a mistake. God does not desire to be served in ways which are not fitted to the spirit which he has made, or are not appropriate to the circumstances in which his providence has placed us. Let there be no forcing in the sphere of the sacred. Do the fitting, the congruous thing, and you will do the right and the acceptable thing. "Is any merry'? let him sing psalms. Is any afflicted? let him pray." Is any filled with a sense of the value of this life? let him give himself heartily to holy usefulness. Is any weary and worn with the strife and burden of life? let him find cheer and comfort in anticipating the rest which remaineth for the people of God. Do not try to regulate your spiritual life by any calendar; let it flow on in joy or sorrow, in active service or patient waiting as the hand of God is laid on the springs of your human spirit, and is directing the course of your earthly life. Not the hard, cast-iron service of constraint, but the free, spontaneous service of the full and overflowing heart, is that for which our Lord is looking, and with which he is well pleased.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Fishers of men.
We left Jesus itinerating through Galilee and preaching in the synagogues. But his centre seems to have been the Lake of Gennesaret, and especially Capernaum. The synagogues have become too small for his audiences, and so he has to take to the seashore, and there meet popularity as best he can. The pressure of the people is great, and it is to hear the Word of God they have come. A great Prophet, they feel, has risen up among them, and so they are eager to know what are the latest tidings from the Most High. There are two ships floating near; they are empty, for the fishermen have returned after a fruitless night, and are washing their nets on shore. Into one of the ships he enters, which happens to be Simon's, and he sits down to teach the mighty multitude which rises tier upon tier above him on the land. We have thus presented to us—
I. THE GREAT FISHER OF MEN. (Luke 5:1-3.) For out of this boat he is really casting his net to catch men. His word spoken is to draw souls into sympathy and service. The art of preaching as thus exercised by Jesus Christ was the fishing for men. The miracle of subsequent success was to throw light really upon this primary attitude of Jesus. Now, let us consider here:
1. The substance of Christ's preaching. It was doubtless about the kingdom of God, about membership in it, and about its prospects in the world. But we must remember besides that he could not, in the very nature of the case, preach the cross. Hence his preaching was the purest morality backed up by a perfect life. So that once, at all events, the preaching of morality got a chance of being most favourably tested. The success thereof we shall mention presently. But Jesus could preach himself as the Saviour of sinners. And this, indeed, is the sum and substance of all preaching. The people, however, did not understand the full meaning of his message at the time.
2. The success of Christ's preaching. There was interest and excitement. But the result of that day's preaching seems to have been very like the night's fishing on the part of the disciples. Ah! this is what illustrates the wonderful consideration of the Saviour. Some one must prepare the way, some one must do the pioneer work. The Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, and Jesus prepared the way for the disciples. It is at Pentecost, after the Crucifixion, when the full gospel can be proclaimed, that the real success begins. The miracle of the fishes subsequent to the preaching of the Master was the type of the order which the good Lord has ordained. The "greater works" done by believing disciples are the spiritual miracles which began in such numbers at Pentecost, and which have been happening ever since (John 14:12).
II. THE MIRACLE OF SUCCESS. (Luke 5:4-7.) Our Lord, having been accommodated in Simon's boat, proceeds to show his gratitude for the obligation. He tells the fishermen to "launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught." Simon honestly owns that they have toiled all the night, and taken nothing; still, though appearances are against it, he will at Christ's word let down the net. No sooner has he done so than success comes so overpowering in character that the net breaks. The result is that they have to beckon for the second boat, and both boats are filled, so that they begin to sink. Here, then, is success "exceeding abundantly above all they can ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). This is to show them that success waits upon the word of Jesus. It is, of course, mere temporal success—success which in a few moments they are enabled to despise; yet it is success obeying Christ's word. We need not inquire into the nature of the miracle. It was most likely a miracle of knowledge. There are great shoals of fish manifesting themselves in inland lakes just in the way demanded by the narrative. £ But Jesus, in giving the direction at the proper moment and securing the draught at the time that the fish were within reach, showed his command of all the circumstances. So that, as Robertson thought, this miracle, more perhaps than all others, shows the personality of God in Christ Jesus. £ The laws of nature hold on their way, but the Author of them can calculate to a nicety their working, and accommodate himself or his people through their operation. He is King among his own arrangements, at home among his own laws. The "hierarchy of laws," as they have been called, acknowledge him as High Priest. But we should further notice how he arranges for the disciples' success rather than for his own. As already intimated, his spiritual success was not great, considering the splendid powers he exercised. As Bersier somewhere remarks, no one ever had so little proportional success as he. No wonder that such a passage as Isaiah 49:4, "I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and in vain," may have been often on his lips. £ But he handed on the elements of success to his successors. They reaped the harvest of which his apparent failure and early death were the seed. The whole arrangement reflects glory on the consideration of the Master.
III. THE EFFECT OF THE SUCCESS UPON THE FISHERMEN. (Isaiah 49:8-10.) They were all filled with astonishment. This is the prime effect of a miracle. It astonishes people. It brings them suddenly face to face with superhuman power. They stare. But after the astonishment comes, and it may be very swiftly, sober thought. It was so here. Peter is broken down at the sight. Goodness has led him to repentance. His sin is now uppermost, and he cries, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." Did Peter wish to be separated from the Master? Nay; but he felt he deserved to be. And here we may notice how prayer is answered. Peter cries to be separated from his Saviour; but in heart he hopes to remain beside Jesus still. Hence Jesus answers the heart, and heeds not the literal meaning of his prayer £ The Lord does not depart from him, but abides with him; nay, more, arranges for Peter being always with him. Goodness is meant to break sinners' hearts (Romans 2:4). Success of all kinds should have this effect. It is sad when "Jeshurun waxes fat and kicks" (Deuteronomy 32:15). It is blessed when, like Peter, in presence of unexpected good fortune, we humble ourselves before him who has sent it, acknowledging that we do not in any wise deserve it. £
IV. THE CALL OF THE FISHERMEN TO THE MINISTRY. (Isaiah 49:10.) Peter was not the only penitent on board the sinking ships, we may be sure. He was first and chief; but the sons of Zebedee and Andrew were, we may be quite sure, penitent too. Fear predominates; their notion is that they might justly be cast from Christ's presence for ever. This is just the spirit in which special work for God begins. And now let us see how Jesus deals with them. He says to Peter first, but the result shows that the others were included in his call, "Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men." They are to be promoted from being fishermen to be "fishers of men." It is a call, not to the apostolic office which comes later, but to the ministry.
1. It is a call away from a worldly occupation. For the ministry is an order of men set apart from temporal concerns for spiritual work. Worldly occupations are incompatible with it. A minister cannot do his work well if compelled to dabble in business.
2. It is a call to catch men. Now, the fisherman uses every art and artifice to get the fish into his net. He toils during the night, that the fish may not see the net nor evade his wiles. In the same way the minister is to use every art, and even guile itself, as Paul confesses, to get souls into Christ's net. We may object to the methods some people employ to promote the gospel. They may be worldly arts—advertising, music, paraphernalia of all kinds. But, before condemning enthusiastic men, we should ask ourselves the question—Have we left "no stone unturned" to bring men, even by moral compulsion, under the power of Christ and his truth (cf. Luke 14:23)? But:
3. The instruction is to catch men alive ζωγρῶν. It is here the fishing fails us as a figure. Fish are caught and, as a rule, in the catching are killed. They lose their lives in the process. But when souls are taken in the gospel net, they are taken alive—are taken to enjoy life abundantly. In truth, the greatest kindness we can confer on souls is to get them into the net. We never live in earnest till we have been brought to him who is the Life of men. Such, in brief terms, is the meaning of the ministry.
V. THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE MINISTERIAL CALL. (Isaiah 49:11.) We would say, at first sight, that the success was singularly out of place. Why grant a shoal of fish, if the fishermen are to leave them without a moment's hesitation or delay? The purpose was to assure them that temporal success was Christ's gift; and secondly, that spiritual success must be preferred to the temporal, even when the latter is at its height. It was a greater surrender when they had been so successful at their fishing. But the noble men did not hesitate. They brought their ships to land, and then forsook all their "stock in trade" that they might follow Jesus. The fellowship with Jesus during his ministry was more precious than the world's wealth could ever be. He was the great "Fisher of men," and it was from fellowship with him they were to learn their profession. The training of the twelve was a most real and blessed thing. £ It was more than any theological learning could ever afford. It was learning of Christ himself, who is the embodied Truth. And yet to this same test every soul is sooner or later brought. At death, if not before, we are all asked if we can forsake all to follow Christ into undiscovered lands. May we all stand that test!—R.M.E.
The healing of the leper and the paralytic.
We noticed how Jesus called the fishermen to be fishers of men, and how they nobly responded to his call, and forsook the fish and boats and friends that they might follow him. We have now before us two instructive miracles performed during his evangelistic work, and resulting in an extension of his influence. Between them there is interposed a significant remark about our Lord's private prayer, so that the order of our thought is miracle, prayer, and more miracle. It is thus that Divine work goes on. We must, consequently, give ourselves unto prayer as well as the ministry of the Word if we would follow Jesus or his apostles.
I. CONSIDER THE CURE OF THE LEPROSY. (Luke 5:12-15.) It was manifestly a very serious case—the man was" full of leprosy." It was the disease in its worst stage. Humanly speaking, it was incurable. So far as man was concerned, the case was hopeless. Now, in this respect, the leprosy is a type of sin. Sin is leprosy in the soul. It is so far incurable by man. But further, the leper was isolated from his kind, not because the disease was infectious through contact, which seems to be quite disproved, £ but because in this way God would show his abhorrence of sin and its essentially separating power. The poor lepers, as they went up and down the land with rent garments, and crying, "unclean!" were virtually dead men mourning over their lost and hopeless condition. But this poor leper had heard of Jesus, had come to him, convinced that he was able to save him. He throws himself down consequently at Christ's feet, saying, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." He was convinced of the Saviour's power, and he threw himself upon his sovereign mercy in the matter of the willingness to save. And it is just to this that every sinner must come. Persuaded of Christ's ability to save, he must throw himself upon his sovereign clemency. For the Saviour might justly refuse to save any, though, as a matter of fact, he is anxious to save all. And now let us notice Christ's method in saving him. He might have saved him by a word, but to show his sympathy and freedom from all fear of defilement, he heals him by a touch, saying, "I will: be thou clean." And immediately the leprosy departed from him. In the very same way can the Saviour heal the leprosy of sin. If we only ask him, he will tenderly touch us, and instantaneously the soul's disease will depart. But, when healed, the man has certain duties to discharge at the instigation of Jesus. He is directed first to tell no man; for Jesus wants to be something more than a physician of the body, and he might, through the patient's report, be so overwhelmed with physical cases as not to have sufficient time for the preaching and spiritual work which with him was paramount. Secondly, he is directed to repair to the priest, and fulfil all that the Law of Moses required, "for a testimony unto them." In this way our Lord desired to demonstrate that he had not come, as they basely insinuated, to destroy the Law and the prophets, but to fulfil them and to get them fulfilled. Notwithstanding these precautions, his fame so spread that multitudes came flocking together to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. We have thus presented to us the way of salvation and its results. It is by coming to Jesus that we are saved from sin; it is by doing what Jesus requires that we are made useful among men. Let us test Jesus as the appointed Saviour, and live as our Lord directs.
II. CONSIDER OUR LORD'S RETIREMENT TO THE WILDERNESS FOR PRAYER. (Luke 5:16.) There is a certain measure of exhaustion in such work as was performed by Jesus. He bowed to the necessity of private communion with God. Even Jesus could not be always in public; solitude was as needful for his soul's health as society for his opportunity of usefulness. Vinet, in a fine sermon on this passage, says, "We do not believe that we exaggerate when we say that those who do not love solitude do not love truth." £ It is in the secret place with God that we renew our spiritual strength and are fit for further service. And what perfect prayers our Lord's must have been. No personal sin to confess, but simply to confer with the Father about the salvation of the world and how best he could promote the welfare of men. The time of solitude with God is the most fruitful time. Without it how barren all else proves!
III. CONSIDER THE HEALING OF THE PARALYTIC. (Luke 5:17-26.) It was in Capernaum, it is believed, and in the house of Peter, that the miracle happened. The audience was a critical one with whom Jesus was dealing, composed of Pharisees and doctors of the Law, out of every town of Galilee and Judaea and Jerusalem. They had come to pass judgment on the new movement under Jesus. And the Spirit was waiting there as the Agent to apply the healing Word of the Messiah to those not unwilling to be healed. But alas! these hard-hearted lawyers gave him no opportunity. But four friends bring along the street a paralytic neighbour, in the hope that he may be healed by Jesus. They cannot at first get near, and so they repair to the house-top, and proceed to tear up the tiles in sufficient numbers to allow of their lowering their helpless friend to the feet of Jesus. £ Here was the Spirit's opportunity. And here let us notice the twofold paralysis under which the poor man laboured—the one was the paralysis of the soul, the other the paralysis of the body. Both appealed to the sympathy of Jesus. Besides, he is pleased to notice the faith of the bearers. We are not told that the paralytic at this time had faith in Jesus, but his friends had for him. They believed that if they could only get their friend before Jesus, they would not have to carry him home again. And disinterested faith for a blessing upon others Jesus respects and rewards. But which of the two paralyses will Jesus cure first? The more serious—the paralysis of soul through sin. Hence, in endearing accents he says, "Man, thy sins are forgiven thee." It was a case of absolution, as Robertson boldly puts it in his sermon upon this passage. £ And to absolution by one whom they regarded as a mere man the scribes and Pharisees secretly objected. They rightly said that none but God alone could forgive sins as against God; they wrongly concluded that Jesus was not Divine. There was no blasphemy, for this was God incarnate. Their objection was not publicly taken. It was a mental note they took of the matter. Jesus soon shows them that he can read their thoughts, by laying bare their objection, and putting his prerogative to the proof. The demonstration he proposes is this: he has pronounced the absolution. It may be deemed easy to do this, since no one can tell that it has not taken place. But he is willing to rest his claim to absolving power by saying the harder word, "Rise up and walk." According as this takes place or fails is he willing to be judged. And so, before his enemies and to the palsied patient, he says, "Arise, and take up thy conch, and go into thine house." Here was a demonstration of his ability to forgive sins as against God, for the paralysis departs and the powerless patient starts to his feet and reaches home with his bed as Jesus commands him. In doing so, moreover, he glorifies God, doubtless, for the double blessing. Now, these miracles are signs and symbols of spiritual things. This healing of the body is a sign of what Jesus is willing and waiting to do for our souls. Paralysis is what has seized on many. What a living death it is! It is only Jesus who can free our spirits from it. If we look to him he will give us his Spirit to strengthen us with all might in the inner man, and to help us to earnestness and action. And first we shall show to all about us that we are able to help ourselves, and will no longer be burdens upon others. The four burden-bearers here were spared their hard work ever after. This is the first manifestation of spiritual strength in the carrying honestly our own share of life's responsibilities! Secondly, we shall glorify God through our spiritual powers. We shall praise him for his loving-kindness and tender mercy towards us. And lastly, we shall lead others to fear and to glorify God too. Hence the great importance of getting rid of spiritual paralysis and of rising into the exercise of spiritual power. We should also learn distinctly from this miracle what possibilities lie awaiting intercessory prayer and disinterested faith. We may do much in bringing helpless souls to Jesus, that they may be healed by him. He is able to do much for our friends as well as for ourselves, and the joy of bringing others to Christ is only exceeded by the joy of coming ourselves. Let us keep coming to Jesus for ourselves and with others, and strange and blessed experiences shall still be ours.—R.M.E.
The call of Levi, and the subsequent banquet.
We noticed how, at the healing of the paralytic, there was a critical assemblage. Secretly did they impugn the absolution pronounced by the Master, and publicly were they refuted. Immediately after, it would seem from all the accounts, Jesus takes the bold step of calling a publican to become his disciple. It was a throwing down of the gauntlet to his enemies. It was taking up a man whom they had excommunicated and despised, and so bringing the kingdom of God into collision with the Jewish authorities. Let us, then, consider—
I. THE CALL OF LEVI, AND ITS ACCEPTANCE. (Luke 5:27, Luke 5:28.) Levi was a leading "custom-house officer," as we should now call him, situated at Capernaum, where the caravans from Damascus to the Mediterranean regularly passed. His office was, we have reason to believe, a lucrative one, so that he had every worldly reason for remaining in it. Doubtless he had no position in the Jewish Church, but, considering the Sadducean scepticism which flourished within the Church pale, the worldly advantages of the tax-gathering would reconcile Levi to excommunication. When Jesus found him he was busy at his tax-gathering. The piles of money were possibly before him. He was never more prosperously occupied before. But lo! this itinerant Preacher, who has no settled home, has not where to lay his head, comes along, and calls Levi from his business to become his follower. "Follow me," says Christ; and for Levi it meant the surrender of his worldly calling, and becoming an itinerant preacher of the kingdom of God. The step for Levi was most serious. And here notice what Jesus demanded. It may be expressed in three words: it was faith in himself. In no way could he better test Levi's confidence than by asking him to surrender the comfort and certainty of his worldly calling for the uncertainty of the Christian ministry as carried on by the Master himself. It is the one demand which Jesus always makes, that men should trust him. And Levi surrenders at once. He leaves all, rises up, and literally follows him. It is a farewell to tax-gathering, that he may take service in the retinue of the Prince of peace. Such a surrender without reserve is what Christianity means. Jesus is put before every one and everything, and his command is our law. The following of Christ, moreover, includes the whole Christian morality. If we take his way and carry out his will, and do, day by day, what we believe he would in our circumstances, then we shall find ourselves holy and useful in increasing measure.
II. CONSIDER LEVI'S FIRST MISSIONARY EFFORT. (Luke 5:29.) This was in the making of the great feast. Hospitality may be missionary in character. If its design is to bring friends into contact with Jesus, as was literally the case here, then it is distinctly a missionary enterprise. Levi felt that the best thing he could now do would be to get all his acquaintances together and to introduce them to Jesus. And ought not this to be the aim of hospitality still, apart from all cant and hypocrisy? Should not hosts inquire what their motives are in making feasts? Are banquets for display, for the advancement of worldly ends, or for the Master's sake? Moreover, this banquet of Levi shows us the limits of our work. All we can ever do for men is to introduce them to Jesus. We cannot do more for their salvation. It is the personal acquaintanceship with Jesus into which they must enter if eternal life is to be theirs. "This is life eternal, to know [i.e. to be acquainted with] thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). The missionary enterprise through hospitality is only beginning to be realized. Hospitality needs to be redeemed, like many another good thing, from worldly uses. A loving heart wilt enable a faithful Christian to accomplish this.
III. PHARISAIC OBJECTIONS TO CHRIST'S NEW ASSOCIATIONS. (Luke 5:30-32.) Eating and drinking in the East are the universal tokens of mutual confidence. After this, the parties will be true to each other until death. Hence the Pharisees with their scribes (so in Revised Version and best authorities)—the legal experts they had brought with them—object to Jesus and his disciples going in "hand and glove" with excommunicated men. From their standpoint it argued great laxity on the part of our Lord. Really it only meant his freedom from Pharisaic pretence. And his defence was complete. He took the Pharisees on their own ground. He assumed that they were spiritually whole, as they supposed themselves to be. Of course, he knew how seriously they were in this matter deceiving themselves. But assuming they were whole, he would, as a Physician, have been losing his time and missing his opportunity had he associated only with them. It is the sick, these publicans and sinners, who need the Physician's care. Hence he hesitated not to enter into Levi's house and mix with Levi's guests. Now, association with others may, like hospitality, be a form of missionary enterprise. This should be our motive in associating with others. Why not be propagandists in all our contact with men? It is not necessary we should be "puritanical;" for that was exactly what Jesus in this case and in every case declined to be. But we may in all our hearty fellowship with others keep their spiritual good clear as a star in view. Our Lord's principle, too, as here stated, is impressive. He did not come to summon to his side the men of reputation, the men of good public character, the pharisaically righteous, but to call "sinners," those who despaired of themselves and needed help. In this he states his grand policy. It is for us to realize its meaning and to imitate him. As self-despairing ones, let us rally round the Saviour, as he calls us to him, and then let us vigorously publish the call to other sinners, that they too may be saved. £
IV. THE PHARISEES FURTHER OBJECTED TO CHRIST'S PRACTICE. (Luke 5:33-35.) Having defended his association with publicans and sinners, he is next assailed because he did not teach the disciples to fast. The Baptist, in the spirit of the old regime, directed his disciples to fast, but Jesus took a different course altogether. And here we must remember that the Law of Moses prescribed fasting only on the great Day of Atonement, when sin was brought so powerfully to remembrance. The fasting twice a week, in which the Pharisees indulged, arose out of those "traditions of the elders" which in many respects overlaid the precepts of the Law. Against these traditions our Lord set himself firmly. Notice that:
1. Fasting is a comparatively easy form of self-denial. As Robertson has said in a sermon on Luke 5:33, "All can understand the self-denial of fasting, because hunger is a low want, known to all. But all cannot understand the self-denial of hard mental work, or that of associating with uncongenial minds, or that of honestly pursuing a disagreeable occupation or profession." £ The coarse minds which proposed to criticize Jesus, therefore, took up fasting as the form of self-denial which they found themselves equal to, and sought to condemn Jesus for neglect of it.
2. There is no good in fasting for its own sake. The person who abstains from food merely to be able to say he has fasted and so fulfilled a human tradition, is not living a noble life. Asceticism had, therefore, no countenance from Jesus.
3. The Divine life is essentially social. The Trinity of Persons in unity declares this fact. God has been social from everlasting, and when he appeared incarnate it was as an eminently social Saviour. Hence he represents himself on thin very occasion as a Bridegroom, and life with him as a bridal feast. Mourning would be as impertinent at a marriage-party as fasting would be when Jesus was present with his people. The sociality of the Christian faith endorses the propriety of the policy of Jesus.
4. Fasting becomes appropriate when fellowship is interrupted. Our Lord refers to his own departure as a being taken away from them, a violent operation—a prophetic note about the cross! In such days will the disciples fast. The felt absence of the Lord should so impress us that fasting would be only natural with us. Through fasting the soul regains its sovereignty over the body, and the gracious presence of the Master as an experience is regained.
V. OUR LORD'S SPIRIT OF INNOVATION. (Luke 5:36-39.) The Pharisees expected ha would conform to old customs, as unoriginal minds are wont to do. But they utterly mistook him. He came, as these twin parables tell us, with new cloth and new wine. This can only mean the Christian spirit, social and missionary in its very essence. Robertson is quite wrong, we believe, in making the new wine and new cloth "austere duties and doctrines," and the old bottles and old cloth as the weak novices in the shape of the new disciples. In what respect these "austere duties and doctrines," were new no one, we imagine, could tell us. They were the old wine and the old garments, easy and palatable to the self-righteous mind, like old wine; but the Christian spirit of sociality and missionary enterprise was the new wine which the self-righteous do not particularly care for. Hence our Lord resolved to initiate no such foolish policy as this, to tack on the free spirit of Christianity to the old pharisaic spirit of fasting frequently and being generally morose. The two would not work, and so he courageously resolved to be an innovator, cost what it would, and to conduct his disciples to a better position than Pharisaism realized. £ The disciples are the new bottles, and the Christian spirit is the new wine. The free, social spirit, which Christianity fosters, may not be palatable to the proud minds of men, but the humble appreciate and preserve it as the disciples have done down to this day. We ought to have the courage of our convictions, even when it leads us to take new courses for men's sake.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany