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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Luke 5

 

 

Verse 1

Luke 5:1; Luk_5:3

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon Him to hear the Word of God

The gospel and the masses

What could have been the wonderful secret power by which the great Prophet of Galilee drew all men after Him?

1. One simple and very intelligent element in it was the way in which he recognized the wholeness of human nature, that, at the bottom, peer did not differ from peasant, nor monarch from villager.

2. And not only did He recognize the wholeness of human nature, hut also its many diversified needs.

3. He was sinless, and yet He never had a harsh word for the sinners--provided they were not hypocrites.

4. He had the tenderest feelings for those who enjoyed fewest opportunities.

5. He recognized the natural or social wants which are common to all men. Feeding five thousand; making wine at wedding.

6. He disdained no man.

APPLICATION. Oh that God would give us grace to preach fully, faithfully, wisely, lovingly this gospel in the spirit, and with the simplicity and abounding sympathy with which it was first preached in the cities and on the mountain slopes and by the lake shores of Galilee; and then I believe the people would be found pressing to hear it as they pressed then. (Bishop Fraser.)

The Word of God

I. THE WORD OF GOD THAT IS NOW PREACHED AMONG US.

II. THE EXISTING URGENCY TO HEAR IT. Of diffusive religion we have abundance; a concentrative Christianity is what we require.

III. THE PEOPLE WHO ARE ITS FAVOURED, AND TOO OFTEN ITS FORGETFUL HEARERS. TWO great classes; those who know the revelation of the will of God through Christ as a mass of doctrines and commands demanding from our understandings a simple assent to their truth; and those who know it in such a sense and degree, as that it becomes the pervading principle of all their actions. Beware of the Christianity of the formalist. When rightly received, “the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (W. A. Butler, M. A.)

To hear the Word of God

One of the finest conceivable pictures presented in this verse--people pressing to hear the Word of God! They often pressed to see Christ’s miracles, and to listen to His parables, with more or less of mere curiosity; but in this case the motive was spiritual and pure. Why do people attend the sanctuary? To hear the word of man? Then will there be debate, opposition, doubt, or at best, admiration, fickle and selfish. The remedy is partly in the hands of ministers themselves. When they insist upon delivering the message of God without any admixture of human speculation, their spiritual reverence and earnestness may carry a holy contagion amongst the people. God’s Word should always be supreme in God’s house. “Them that honour Me, I will honour.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

The Lake of Gennesaret

It is the centre of the ministry of our Lord; it is not too much to say of it what Dean Stanley has said, “It is the most sacred sheet of water that the earth contains.” The Rabbins say, “I have created seven seas, saith the Lord, but out of them I have chosen none but the sea of Gennesaret.” In the day of our Lord, it was a scene of teeming life as well as the centre of a peculiarly hushed and hallowed solitude. No doubt, as compared with many quarters of the globe, it was secluded; but still its shores and its waves were the way of traffic. It was situated in the midst of the Jordan valley, or the great thoroughfare from Babylon and Damascus into Palestine; hence it was “the way of the sea beyond Jordan.” Along its banks a wondrous vegetation spread, and full of especially beautiful birds and flowers and fruits. What a scene it must have presented--fishermen by hundreds on the Lake; in hamlets around the numerous shipbuilders; and the sails and boats of pleasure flying before the frequent gusts from the mountains. There was no other spot which would so instantly have been a conductor to the words of our Lord. There is a Divine providence in even the very spot itself. The dwellers of the Sea of Galilee were free from most of the strong prejudices which, in the south of Palestine, raised a bar to Christ’s reception. There were the people of Zabulon and Nephthalim, by the way of the sea beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. They had sat in darkness; but for that very reason they saw more clearly the great light when it came to them in the region of the shadow of death. There He came, to that spot, to preach the gospel to the poor, the weary, and the heavy laden, to seek and to save that which was lost. Where could He find what He sought so readily as in the ceaseless turmoil of those busy waters and teeming villages? Roman soldiers, centurions quartered with their slaves; here, too, the palaces of the princes. Hardy boatmen, publicans, and tax-collectors sitting at the receipt of custom, women who were sinners from neighbouring Gentile cities and villages. Thus all was prepared to concentrate and give effect to the power of His teaching by the Lake. (E. Paxton Hood.)

Description of the lake

The Sea of Galilee is shaped like a pear, with a width at the broadest part of 6.75 miles, and a length of 121; miles; that is, it is about the same length as our own Windermere, but considerably broader, though in the clear air of Palestine it looks somewhat smaller. Nothing can exceed the bright clearness of the water, which it is delightful to watch as it runs in small waves over the shingle. Its taste, moreover, is sweet, except near the hot springs and at Tiberias, where it is polluted by the sewerage of the town. There is much more level ground on the eastern side than the western, yet the western side was always, in Bible times, much more thickly peopled by the Hebrews than the other; partly from the fact that “beyond Jordan” was almost a foreign country; partly because the land above the lake on the east was exposed to the Arabs; and in some measure also because it always had a large intermixture of heathen population. (Geikie’s “Holy Land and the Bible.”)

Description of the surrounding scenery

The original population of the shores of the lake was Sidonian, and when Tyre and Sidon were founded on the shores of the Mediterranean they moved westward, but the town of Bethsidon still retained the name given it by its first inhabitants. The richest part of the shores was at the north-west, where is a luxuriant plain of half-moon shape, walled out from the north and west winds by mountains, and exposed to the sun. This was where the princes and the nobles had their country residences, and the gardens were filled with all kinds of flowers and fruit. The lake was called by its first colonists, Cenuereth, or the Harp, from its shape. The Jews thought so highly of its beauty that they said, “God created seven seas--but for Himself He elected but one, and that the Lake Gennesareth”; and again, “It is the Gate of Paradise.” Josephus says, “It is a district where Nature seems to have constrained herself to create an eternal spring, and to gather into one spot the products of every one.” To the present day the date-palm, citrons, pomegranate, indigo, rice, sugar-cane, grow there; cotton, balsams, vines, thrive; the purple grapes are as big as plums, and the bunches weigh twelve pounds. Here also the fig-tree yields her fruit throughout the year, ripening every month. The Jews call Gennesareth the Garden Lake, and if there were any place in Palestine that could recall the lost Paradise, it was this fruitful, beautiful tract, watered with its five streams. At Chammath, about two miles south of Tiberias, are hot springs, of old much used for baths, and half an hour’s walk above Tiberias a cold spring of beautiful water bursts out of the mountain side, and pours down to the lake in five or six streams. At Tabigha also are hot springs, that gush streaming down into the blue waters of the lake. Now the neglect of mismanagement of the Turkish Government have led to the devastation of this beautiful corner of the world, and many of the foreign plants once introduced into it have died out, or are disappearing. We can only guess what a garden of delight it must have been in the time of our Lord, when the aqueducts were in working order, and canals carried water to all the gardens and fields. (S. Baring-Gould, M. A.)

Attractiveness of the true preacher

Let a man be a true preacher, really uttering the truth through his own personality, and it is strange how men will gather to listen to him. We hear that the day of the pulpit is past, and then some morning the voice of a true preacher is heard in the land, and all the streets are full of men crowding to hear him, just exactly as were the streets of Constantinople when Chrysostum was going to preach at the Church of the Apostles, or the streets of London when Latimer was bravely telling the truth at St. Paul’s. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)

The personal power inpreaching

The nameless and potent charm of intense personality cannot all go down into a dead book. Truth in personality is where the hidings of power are. We look in vain along the pages of Whitefield for the secret of his mighty effectiveness. We search the famous sermon of Edwards, and wonder what there was in it that moved men so. It was not the sermon on the printed page; it was the sermon in the living preacher. While men are men, a living man before living men will always be more than white paper and black ink. And therein will for evermore lie the supremest possibilities of pulpit power, which no competing press, however enterprising and ubiquitous, can rival. The Founder of Christianity made no mistake when He staked its triumphal progress down through all ages, and its victorious consummation at “the end of the “world,” on “the foolishness of preaching.” He chose the agency in full view of the marvels of these later centuries, and the pulpit is not therefore likely to be despoiled of its peculiar glory and made impotent to its work by any device born of the inventive genius of man. (Dr. Herrick Johnson, of Chicago.)

A remarkable pulpit

I have seen in different countries some very wonderful pulpits, some of them exquisitely carved in stone or wood, some of them richly inlaid with the choicest mosaics, some of them illustrating scenes from the Bible. Perhaps the loveliest pulpit I have ever seen is in a place where you would least expect to find it. In Italy you often see places that are called Baptisteries--that is, places built specially for the baptism of children. In the old city of Pisa there is a most lovely Baptistery, and in it the most beautiful pulpit, which every one who sees greatly admires; but, strange to say, it cannot be used, because there is such a wonderful echo in the building that the preacher’s voice could not be heard. If you speak quite softly in it you hear a sound as of a great choir right up in the roof, and so the pulpit can only be admired and not used. But the pulpit from which Christ preached on this occasion was a very simple one; it was not richly carved, nor beautifully decorated, nor of massive form. It was only a tiny boat resting upon the bosom of a lake. (W. A. Herder.)

The preaching of Christ

The form of the preaching of Jesus was essentially Jewish. The Oriental mind does not work in the same way as the mind of the West. Our thinking and speaking, when at their best, are fluent, expansive, closely reasoned. The kind of discourse which we admire is one which takes up an important subject, divides it out into different branches, treats it fully under each of the heads, closely articulates part to part, and closes with a moving appeal to the feelings, so as to sway the will to some practical result. The Oriental mind, on the contrary, loves to brood long on a single point, to turn it round and round, to gather up all the truth about it into a focus, and pour it forth in a few pointed and memorable words. It is concise, epigrammatic, oracular. A Western speaker’s discourse is a systematic structure, or like a chain in which link is firmly knit to link; an Oriental’s is like the sky at night, full of innumerable burning points shining forth from a dark background. Such was the form of the teaching of Jesus. It consisted of numerous sayings, every one of which contained the greatest possible amount of truth in the smallest possible compass, and was expressed in language so concise and pointed as to stick in the memory like an arrow. Read them, and you will find that every one of them, as you ponder it, sucks the mind in and in like a whirlpool, till it is lost in the depths. You will find, too, that there are very few of them which you do not know by heart. They have found their way into the memory of Christendom as no other words have done. Even before the meaning has been apprehended, the perfect, proverb-like expression lodges itself fast in the mind. (James Stalker.)

Attention to the Word of God

I. The circumstance mentioned in the first verse of the text was A NATURAL CONSEQUENCE OF OUR LORD’S OFFICE AND CHARACTER. “The people pressed upon Him to hear the Word of God.” Jesus Christ was “that Prophet which should come into the world.” He brought down a message of mercy from heaven to earth; a message of pardon for the guilty, of life to the dead, and of salvation to those who were utterly and eternally lost. They were astonished at His doctrine; for He taught them as one having authority. They “ pressed upon Him to hear the Word of God.” And surely it is not too much for us to expect to witness a continuance of the same spirit. If God has indeed sent His Son and His servants to communicate an authentic revelation of His will to man, these teachers must be listened to by all who understand their own character and circumstances, and the great ends for which they live.

II. Such AN ATTENTION TO THE WORD OF GOD IS MATTER OF ABSOLUTE AND UNIVERSAL DUTY AND OBLIGATION. We are all bound to receive Divine instruction, and to receive it in the mode contemplated in the text. The law of Moses directed that, at stated seasons, there were to be holy convocations of the people; when they were to be collected in masses, to engage in holy duties, to enjoy holy delights, to receive holy light and power, and thereby to be filled for those high and holy ends for which they existed as a separate people. In the gospel, Christians are commanded not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. They are to “exhort one another.” Along with these commands, there are “given unto us exceeding great and precious promises.” “In all places where I record My name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee” (Exodus 20:24; Matthew 18:20). We are bound to give this attendance on the word and worship of God, because He requires it. We are bound to do this, because we ourselves have need of it. If the highest archangel in heaven were commanded to frequent religious assemblies, as a learner, and as a worshipper, he would not refuse. This was done by Him who has received “a name which is above every name.” As the Mediator, Jesus Christ was subject to the Father; and He testified that subjection by a devout regard for His ordinances. He was a stated attendant on the services of the Temple. But we are not merely creatures: we are also sinners. We are not only subject to our Maker’s authority; we need our Maker’s mercy. If we would obtain His blessing, we must seek it in the way of His own appointment. In any other way He has not promised it; in any other way we have no right to expect it. It does not mean that the vulgar and illiterate must go to Church, but that men of science and literature are at liberty to stay away. A man may be as great a philosopher as Socrates or Plato; but then he is a creature and a sinner. He must therefore attend to his Creator’s word; he must kneel at his Creator’s feet. Neither can political rank at all free us from this great obligation. A man may be a lord, a duke, a king, or an emperor; yet he must imitate the example of Him who is Lord of lords, and King of kings. No man is excused on the ground of poverty and meanness. It may mortify him excessively to exhibit his rags before a large and respectable congregation; but Christ hath left us an example that we should tread in His steps. His piety and poverty were great and manifest. The plea of a high and refined spirituality of mind will be equally unavailing. It is useless to say, “I have no need to observe the mere forms of piety, since I enjoy its spirit and its power.”

III. The men of bustle and business are sometimes disposed to look upon all this attendance on the Word of God AS SO MUCH LOST TIME, AND AN INCONVENIENT INTERFERENCE WITH THE CONCERNS OF LIFE. If such excuses could ever be seasonable, they might have been urged by the fishermen of Galilee, on the occasion referred to in the text. They had toiled all the night before, and caught nothing. They were now in the act of washing their nets, in order at the earliest opportunity to go to sea again and make another attempt. Several of them, it is probable, had families dependent on their industry and success. Under such circumstances they might have said, “Lord, we have no time to hear sermons now. It is impossible for us to comply with your request, and to spare our boat for preaching purposes at present. We must follow our employment, or our debts cannot be paid, nor our children’s wants supplied.” But not a word of objection or excuse was heard. What follows proves that in the end they suffered no loss. Know, therefore, that there is a providence; a blessing of the Lord which maketh rich.

IV. THE WORD OF GOD DESERVES TO BE IMPLICITLY BELIEVED AND OBEYED. We may always venture to carry out its instructions into practical effect in the face of every difficulty and discouragement. But Peter reasoned on a different principle, and came to a different conclusion. He called Jesus “Master,” and was consistent with himself. Many of us talk like servants while we act like masters. We say, “Lord, Lord,” but do not the things which He enjoins. But Peter understood his duty better. When the Master commands, the servant’s business is, not to argue, but to obey.

V. THAT WORD DESERVES OUR ATTENTION ON ACCOUNT OF ITS POWER TO REACH AND CONTROL THE HUMAN HEART. The Author of the Bible knows what is in man. He can speak to the heart of His own creatures. His Word touches the hidden springs of thought and feeling, and thus turns us about whithersoever He will (Hebrews 4:12). Peter found this by experience. The sermon was heard, and such was the silent and secret but powerful effect of Divine truth upon his heart, that he saw his unutterable guilt and depravity as in the light of open day; and became so agitated with grief and terror, that, in the end, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, exclaiming, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). You will soon be brought to the same temper, if you listen to the same Teacher.

VI. IT IS NOT INTENDED, HOWEVER, TO INTIMATE THAT THIS MATCHLESS WORD WILL INTRODUCE US TO A REST AND PEACE, WHICH IMPLIES AN EXEMPTION FROM WORLDLY CALAMITIES. When the disciples were favoured with the immediate presence of Christ, and were in the very act of receiving a miraculous blessing at His hands, we scarcely expected to hear anything of a broken net and a sinking boat. Yet both these inconveniences were experienced on this memorable occasion. The afflictions of a good man only tend to heighten his gratitude, by more abundant displays of the Divine faithfulness and love. It was wonderful that the net should be suffered to break; but it was more wonderful that, after this accident, the fishes were not lost. It was wonderful that the boat should be suffered to begin to sink; but it was more wonderful that, in such a state, they should all come safe to land. God often reduces His people to the last extremities, and then shows them His salvation. The vessel which bears the saints to glory is often in a leaky and sinking state. All hope of being saved is not unfrequently taken away. Yet, while they have an ear to hear, and a heart to obey, they continue to float.

VII. THE BENEFITS ARISING FROM. AN ATTENTION TO THE WORD OF GOD ARE NOT CONFINED TO OURSELVES THEY EXTEND TO OTHERS. While attention to the Word of God teaches us the duty of instructing others, it also gives us the disposition to make the attempt. Piety and charity are inseparably connected. (Samuel Jackson.)

The attractive power of the gospel

Jesus as a preacher “drew.” What was the attraction? He used no rhetorical device to produce an effect. His method was startling in its novelty. He did not follow the customs of His age. Though claiming to be a religious teacher, He did net adopt the conventional role of a priest or scribe. But to really appreciate the spirit of the Preacher we must understand His doctrine. The message He brought men made it imperative that His attitude towards them should be that of large-hearted sympathy. Now, there are some things I want you to see as the result of this exposition.

1. The first is that the gospel of Christ, when proclaimed in the proper spirit, never fails to touch the heart. In a sermon of Bishop Fraser’s I read the following story: A well-known Anglican Bishop was announced to preach in a certain church. A tradesman in the parish, the leader of a set of Atheists, made up his mind to go and hear him. He listened attentively, and after the sermon he said to some one, “If that bishop had argued, I would have fought with him; but there was no arguing about him; he preached to us simply about the love of God, and that touched me.” Let the gospel be preached with the simplicity and sympathy with which it was first preached in Galilee, and people will still be found pressing to hear.

2. The next thing I want you to see is, that the gospel and spirit of Christ are the powers that have been refining and elevating society ever since He lived and taught. Slowly, almost insensibly, the gospel has been making its way in society.

3. The last thing I want you to see is, that the gospel and spirit of Jesus alone have the power to make humanity noble and good. What a principle this is on which to base individual, social, and political life--God is the Father of all men and has given His Son to redeem them from death; all men are the sons of God, bound to obey Him with loving and filial spirit; each man owes to every other man the duties of a brother. Were that principle realized the happiness of the world would far surpass the dreams of the most ardent socialist. Getting rich by methods that injure others would be unknown. (S. If. Hamilton, D. D.)


Verses 1-14

Verse 3

Luke 5:1; Luk_5:3

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon Him to hear the Word of God

The gospel and the masses

What could have been the wonderful secret power by which the great Prophet of Galilee drew all men after Him?

1. One simple and very intelligent element in it was the way in which he recognized the wholeness of human nature, that, at the bottom, peer did not differ from peasant, nor monarch from villager.

2. And not only did He recognize the wholeness of human nature, hut also its many diversified needs.

3. He was sinless, and yet He never had a harsh word for the sinners--provided they were not hypocrites.

4. He had the tenderest feelings for those who enjoyed fewest opportunities.

5. He recognized the natural or social wants which are common to all men. Feeding five thousand; making wine at wedding.

6. He disdained no man.

APPLICATION. Oh that God would give us grace to preach fully, faithfully, wisely, lovingly this gospel in the spirit, and with the simplicity and abounding sympathy with which it was first preached in the cities and on the mountain slopes and by the lake shores of Galilee; and then I believe the people would be found pressing to hear it as they pressed then. (Bishop Fraser.)

The Word of God

I. THE WORD OF GOD THAT IS NOW PREACHED AMONG US.

II. THE EXISTING URGENCY TO HEAR IT. Of diffusive religion we have abundance; a concentrative Christianity is what we require.

III. THE PEOPLE WHO ARE ITS FAVOURED, AND TOO OFTEN ITS FORGETFUL HEARERS. TWO great classes; those who know the revelation of the will of God through Christ as a mass of doctrines and commands demanding from our understandings a simple assent to their truth; and those who know it in such a sense and degree, as that it becomes the pervading principle of all their actions. Beware of the Christianity of the formalist. When rightly received, “the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (W. A. Butler, M. A.)

To hear the Word of God

One of the finest conceivable pictures presented in this verse--people pressing to hear the Word of God! They often pressed to see Christ’s miracles, and to listen to His parables, with more or less of mere curiosity; but in this case the motive was spiritual and pure. Why do people attend the sanctuary? To hear the word of man? Then will there be debate, opposition, doubt, or at best, admiration, fickle and selfish. The remedy is partly in the hands of ministers themselves. When they insist upon delivering the message of God without any admixture of human speculation, their spiritual reverence and earnestness may carry a holy contagion amongst the people. God’s Word should always be supreme in God’s house. “Them that honour Me, I will honour.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

The Lake of Gennesaret

It is the centre of the ministry of our Lord; it is not too much to say of it what Dean Stanley has said, “It is the most sacred sheet of water that the earth contains.” The Rabbins say, “I have created seven seas, saith the Lord, but out of them I have chosen none but the sea of Gennesaret.” In the day of our Lord, it was a scene of teeming life as well as the centre of a peculiarly hushed and hallowed solitude. No doubt, as compared with many quarters of the globe, it was secluded; but still its shores and its waves were the way of traffic. It was situated in the midst of the Jordan valley, or the great thoroughfare from Babylon and Damascus into Palestine; hence it was “the way of the sea beyond Jordan.” Along its banks a wondrous vegetation spread, and full of especially beautiful birds and flowers and fruits. What a scene it must have presented--fishermen by hundreds on the Lake; in hamlets around the numerous shipbuilders; and the sails and boats of pleasure flying before the frequent gusts from the mountains. There was no other spot which would so instantly have been a conductor to the words of our Lord. There is a Divine providence in even the very spot itself. The dwellers of the Sea of Galilee were free from most of the strong prejudices which, in the south of Palestine, raised a bar to Christ’s reception. There were the people of Zabulon and Nephthalim, by the way of the sea beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. They had sat in darkness; but for that very reason they saw more clearly the great light when it came to them in the region of the shadow of death. There He came, to that spot, to preach the gospel to the poor, the weary, and the heavy laden, to seek and to save that which was lost. Where could He find what He sought so readily as in the ceaseless turmoil of those busy waters and teeming villages? Roman soldiers, centurions quartered with their slaves; here, too, the palaces of the princes. Hardy boatmen, publicans, and tax-collectors sitting at the receipt of custom, women who were sinners from neighbouring Gentile cities and villages. Thus all was prepared to concentrate and give effect to the power of His teaching by the Lake. (E. Paxton Hood.)

Description of the lake

The Sea of Galilee is shaped like a pear, with a width at the broadest part of 6.75 miles, and a length of 121; miles; that is, it is about the same length as our own Windermere, but considerably broader, though in the clear air of Palestine it looks somewhat smaller. Nothing can exceed the bright clearness of the water, which it is delightful to watch as it runs in small waves over the shingle. Its taste, moreover, is sweet, except near the hot springs and at Tiberias, where it is polluted by the sewerage of the town. There is much more level ground on the eastern side than the western, yet the western side was always, in Bible times, much more thickly peopled by the Hebrews than the other; partly from the fact that “beyond Jordan” was almost a foreign country; partly because the land above the lake on the east was exposed to the Arabs; and in some measure also because it always had a large intermixture of heathen population. (Geikie’s “Holy Land and the Bible.”)

Description of the surrounding scenery

The original population of the shores of the lake was Sidonian, and when Tyre and Sidon were founded on the shores of the Mediterranean they moved westward, but the town of Bethsidon still retained the name given it by its first inhabitants. The richest part of the shores was at the north-west, where is a luxuriant plain of half-moon shape, walled out from the north and west winds by mountains, and exposed to the sun. This was where the princes and the nobles had their country residences, and the gardens were filled with all kinds of flowers and fruit. The lake was called by its first colonists, Cenuereth, or the Harp, from its shape. The Jews thought so highly of its beauty that they said, “God created seven seas--but for Himself He elected but one, and that the Lake Gennesareth”; and again, “It is the Gate of Paradise.” Josephus says, “It is a district where Nature seems to have constrained herself to create an eternal spring, and to gather into one spot the products of every one.” To the present day the date-palm, citrons, pomegranate, indigo, rice, sugar-cane, grow there; cotton, balsams, vines, thrive; the purple grapes are as big as plums, and the bunches weigh twelve pounds. Here also the fig-tree yields her fruit throughout the year, ripening every month. The Jews call Gennesareth the Garden Lake, and if there were any place in Palestine that could recall the lost Paradise, it was this fruitful, beautiful tract, watered with its five streams. At Chammath, about two miles south of Tiberias, are hot springs, of old much used for baths, and half an hour’s walk above Tiberias a cold spring of beautiful water bursts out of the mountain side, and pours down to the lake in five or six streams. At Tabigha also are hot springs, that gush streaming down into the blue waters of the lake. Now the neglect of mismanagement of the Turkish Government have led to the devastation of this beautiful corner of the world, and many of the foreign plants once introduced into it have died out, or are disappearing. We can only guess what a garden of delight it must have been in the time of our Lord, when the aqueducts were in working order, and canals carried water to all the gardens and fields. (S. Baring-Gould, M. A.)

Attractiveness of the true preacher

Let a man be a true preacher, really uttering the truth through his own personality, and it is strange how men will gather to listen to him. We hear that the day of the pulpit is past, and then some morning the voice of a true preacher is heard in the land, and all the streets are full of men crowding to hear him, just exactly as were the streets of Constantinople when Chrysostum was going to preach at the Church of the Apostles, or the streets of London when Latimer was bravely telling the truth at St. Paul’s. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)

The personal power inpreaching

The nameless and potent charm of intense personality cannot all go down into a dead book. Truth in personality is where the hidings of power are. We look in vain along the pages of Whitefield for the secret of his mighty effectiveness. We search the famous sermon of Edwards, and wonder what there was in it that moved men so. It was not the sermon on the printed page; it was the sermon in the living preacher. While men are men, a living man before living men will always be more than white paper and black ink. And therein will for evermore lie the supremest possibilities of pulpit power, which no competing press, however enterprising and ubiquitous, can rival. The Founder of Christianity made no mistake when He staked its triumphal progress down through all ages, and its victorious consummation at “the end of the “world,” on “the foolishness of preaching.” He chose the agency in full view of the marvels of these later centuries, and the pulpit is not therefore likely to be despoiled of its peculiar glory and made impotent to its work by any device born of the inventive genius of man. (Dr. Herrick Johnson, of Chicago.)

A remarkable pulpit

I have seen in different countries some very wonderful pulpits, some of them exquisitely carved in stone or wood, some of them richly inlaid with the choicest mosaics, some of them illustrating scenes from the Bible. Perhaps the loveliest pulpit I have ever seen is in a place where you would least expect to find it. In Italy you often see places that are called Baptisteries--that is, places built specially for the baptism of children. In the old city of Pisa there is a most lovely Baptistery, and in it the most beautiful pulpit, which every one who sees greatly admires; but, strange to say, it cannot be used, because there is such a wonderful echo in the building that the preacher’s voice could not be heard. If you speak quite softly in it you hear a sound as of a great choir right up in the roof, and so the pulpit can only be admired and not used. But the pulpit from which Christ preached on this occasion was a very simple one; it was not richly carved, nor beautifully decorated, nor of massive form. It was only a tiny boat resting upon the bosom of a lake. (W. A. Herder.)

The preaching of Christ

The form of the preaching of Jesus was essentially Jewish. The Oriental mind does not work in the same way as the mind of the West. Our thinking and speaking, when at their best, are fluent, expansive, closely reasoned. The kind of discourse which we admire is one which takes up an important subject, divides it out into different branches, treats it fully under each of the heads, closely articulates part to part, and closes with a moving appeal to the feelings, so as to sway the will to some practical result. The Oriental mind, on the contrary, loves to brood long on a single point, to turn it round and round, to gather up all the truth about it into a focus, and pour it forth in a few pointed and memorable words. It is concise, epigrammatic, oracular. A Western speaker’s discourse is a systematic structure, or like a chain in which link is firmly knit to link; an Oriental’s is like the sky at night, full of innumerable burning points shining forth from a dark background. Such was the form of the teaching of Jesus. It consisted of numerous sayings, every one of which contained the greatest possible amount of truth in the smallest possible compass, and was expressed in language so concise and pointed as to stick in the memory like an arrow. Read them, and you will find that every one of them, as you ponder it, sucks the mind in and in like a whirlpool, till it is lost in the depths. You will find, too, that there are very few of them which you do not know by heart. They have found their way into the memory of Christendom as no other words have done. Even before the meaning has been apprehended, the perfect, proverb-like expression lodges itself fast in the mind. (James Stalker.)

Attention to the Word of God

I. The circumstance mentioned in the first verse of the text was A NATURAL CONSEQUENCE OF OUR LORD’S OFFICE AND CHARACTER. “The people pressed upon Him to hear the Word of God.” Jesus Christ was “that Prophet which should come into the world.” He brought down a message of mercy from heaven to earth; a message of pardon for the guilty, of life to the dead, and of salvation to those who were utterly and eternally lost. They were astonished at His doctrine; for He taught them as one having authority. They “ pressed upon Him to hear the Word of God.” And surely it is not too much for us to expect to witness a continuance of the same spirit. If God has indeed sent His Son and His servants to communicate an authentic revelation of His will to man, these teachers must be listened to by all who understand their own character and circumstances, and the great ends for which they live.

II. Such AN ATTENTION TO THE WORD OF GOD IS MATTER OF ABSOLUTE AND UNIVERSAL DUTY AND OBLIGATION. We are all bound to receive Divine instruction, and to receive it in the mode contemplated in the text. The law of Moses directed that, at stated seasons, there were to be holy convocations of the people; when they were to be collected in masses, to engage in holy duties, to enjoy holy delights, to receive holy light and power, and thereby to be filled for those high and holy ends for which they existed as a separate people. In the gospel, Christians are commanded not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. They are to “exhort one another.” Along with these commands, there are “given unto us exceeding great and precious promises.” “In all places where I record My name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee” (Exodus 20:24; Matthew 18:20). We are bound to give this attendance on the word and worship of God, because He requires it. We are bound to do this, because we ourselves have need of it. If the highest archangel in heaven were commanded to frequent religious assemblies, as a learner, and as a worshipper, he would not refuse. This was done by Him who has received “a name which is above every name.” As the Mediator, Jesus Christ was subject to the Father; and He testified that subjection by a devout regard for His ordinances. He was a stated attendant on the services of the Temple. But we are not merely creatures: we are also sinners. We are not only subject to our Maker’s authority; we need our Maker’s mercy. If we would obtain His blessing, we must seek it in the way of His own appointment. In any other way He has not promised it; in any other way we have no right to expect it. It does not mean that the vulgar and illiterate must go to Church, but that men of science and literature are at liberty to stay away. A man may be as great a philosopher as Socrates or Plato; but then he is a creature and a sinner. He must therefore attend to his Creator’s word; he must kneel at his Creator’s feet. Neither can political rank at all free us from this great obligation. A man may be a lord, a duke, a king, or an emperor; yet he must imitate the example of Him who is Lord of lords, and King of kings. No man is excused on the ground of poverty and meanness. It may mortify him excessively to exhibit his rags before a large and respectable congregation; but Christ hath left us an example that we should tread in His steps. His piety and poverty were great and manifest. The plea of a high and refined spirituality of mind will be equally unavailing. It is useless to say, “I have no need to observe the mere forms of piety, since I enjoy its spirit and its power.”

III. The men of bustle and business are sometimes disposed to look upon all this attendance on the Word of God AS SO MUCH LOST TIME, AND AN INCONVENIENT INTERFERENCE WITH THE CONCERNS OF LIFE. If such excuses could ever be seasonable, they might have been urged by the fishermen of Galilee, on the occasion referred to in the text. They had toiled all the night before, and caught nothing. They were now in the act of washing their nets, in order at the earliest opportunity to go to sea again and make another attempt. Several of them, it is probable, had families dependent on their industry and success. Under such circumstances they might have said, “Lord, we have no time to hear sermons now. It is impossible for us to comply with your request, and to spare our boat for preaching purposes at present. We must follow our employment, or our debts cannot be paid, nor our children’s wants supplied.” But not a word of objection or excuse was heard. What follows proves that in the end they suffered no loss. Know, therefore, that there is a providence; a blessing of the Lord which maketh rich.

IV. THE WORD OF GOD DESERVES TO BE IMPLICITLY BELIEVED AND OBEYED. We may always venture to carry out its instructions into practical effect in the face of every difficulty and discouragement. But Peter reasoned on a different principle, and came to a different conclusion. He called Jesus “Master,” and was consistent with himself. Many of us talk like servants while we act like masters. We say, “Lord, Lord,” but do not the things which He enjoins. But Peter understood his duty better. When the Master commands, the servant’s business is, not to argue, but to obey.

V. THAT WORD DESERVES OUR ATTENTION ON ACCOUNT OF ITS POWER TO REACH AND CONTROL THE HUMAN HEART. The Author of the Bible knows what is in man. He can speak to the heart of His own creatures. His Word touches the hidden springs of thought and feeling, and thus turns us about whithersoever He will (Hebrews 4:12). Peter found this by experience. The sermon was heard, and such was the silent and secret but powerful effect of Divine truth upon his heart, that he saw his unutterable guilt and depravity as in the light of open day; and became so agitated with grief and terror, that, in the end, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, exclaiming, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). You will soon be brought to the same temper, if you listen to the same Teacher.

VI. IT IS NOT INTENDED, HOWEVER, TO INTIMATE THAT THIS MATCHLESS WORD WILL INTRODUCE US TO A REST AND PEACE, WHICH IMPLIES AN EXEMPTION FROM WORLDLY CALAMITIES. When the disciples were favoured with the immediate presence of Christ, and were in the very act of receiving a miraculous blessing at His hands, we scarcely expected to hear anything of a broken net and a sinking boat. Yet both these inconveniences were experienced on this memorable occasion. The afflictions of a good man only tend to heighten his gratitude, by more abundant displays of the Divine faithfulness and love. It was wonderful that the net should be suffered to break; but it was more wonderful that, after this accident, the fishes were not lost. It was wonderful that the boat should be suffered to begin to sink; but it was more wonderful that, in such a state, they should all come safe to land. God often reduces His people to the last extremities, and then shows them His salvation. The vessel which bears the saints to glory is often in a leaky and sinking state. All hope of being saved is not unfrequently taken away. Yet, while they have an ear to hear, and a heart to obey, they continue to float.

VII. THE BENEFITS ARISING FROM. AN ATTENTION TO THE WORD OF GOD ARE NOT CONFINED TO OURSELVES THEY EXTEND TO OTHERS. While attention to the Word of God teaches us the duty of instructing others, it also gives us the disposition to make the attempt. Piety and charity are inseparably connected. (Samuel Jackson.)

The attractive power of the gospel

Jesus as a preacher “drew.” What was the attraction? He used no rhetorical device to produce an effect. His method was startling in its novelty. He did not follow the customs of His age. Though claiming to be a religious teacher, He did net adopt the conventional role of a priest or scribe. But to really appreciate the spirit of the Preacher we must understand His doctrine. The message He brought men made it imperative that His attitude towards them should be that of large-hearted sympathy. Now, there are some things I want you to see as the result of this exposition.

1. The first is that the gospel of Christ, when proclaimed in the proper spirit, never fails to touch the heart. In a sermon of Bishop Fraser’s I read the following story: A well-known Anglican Bishop was announced to preach in a certain church. A tradesman in the parish, the leader of a set of Atheists, made up his mind to go and hear him. He listened attentively, and after the sermon he said to some one, “If that bishop had argued, I would have fought with him; but there was no arguing about him; he preached to us simply about the love of God, and that touched me.” Let the gospel be preached with the simplicity and sympathy with which it was first preached in Galilee, and people will still be found pressing to hear.

2. The next thing I want you to see is, that the gospel and spirit of Christ are the powers that have been refining and elevating society ever since He lived and taught. Slowly, almost insensibly, the gospel has been making its way in society.

3. The last thing I want you to see is, that the gospel and spirit of Jesus alone have the power to make humanity noble and good. What a principle this is on which to base individual, social, and political life--God is the Father of all men and has given His Son to redeem them from death; all men are the sons of God, bound to obey Him with loving and filial spirit; each man owes to every other man the duties of a brother. Were that principle realized the happiness of the world would far surpass the dreams of the most ardent socialist. Getting rich by methods that injure others would be unknown. (S. If. Hamilton, D. D.)


Verse 4

Luke 5:4

Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught

Out of the deep

I.
RECALL THE HISTORIC EVENT.

1. It is not work that tries men and women, half as much as it is the disappointment which unsuccess brings.

2. The best and only real recreation which any soul can find is that which comes from resting in the Lord, and in abiding patiently upon Him, in the faith that He doeth all things well, even when He asks us to labour on without finding any immediate reward.

II. CHRIST TAKES HIS PEOPLE INTO THE DEEP. There was in the crisis hour of St. Peter’s personal history a striking coincidence between his outward and his inward experience--a parable of all Divine dealings with men.

1. Think of the present attitude of the world towards revealed truth. It shrinks from launching out into the deep. The prevailing tendency is towards the superficial rather than the substantial. We aim at greatness instead of thoroughness. Men have pushed their investigations in every direction; but they are disposed to stop just where the problem deepens into anything like mystery, and where faith must take the place of sight. Whenever I meet with one of these flippant retailers of modern objections to Holy Scripture, and hear him making light of revealed truth, and ventilating with imperiousness his opinion that the Bible is largely a myth, I always feel like asking such a man: “My friend, have you ever pushed out from the shallow into the depth of these questions? Have ever your knees touched the waters of God’s mighty sea? Have you ever gone, alone with Christ, away from the shore and its noisy multitude, to where His waves are mountains?”

2. In the workings and leadings of His providence, God sometimes takes us out of the region of shallow, everyday experiences, into those which are very deep and solemn. There are depths of sorrow, of affliction, and doubt and depression, of poverty and bodily sickness, of temptation, of penitence and shame, and of spiritual weakness; and some of them are mysterious, unfathomable. There is, in such cases, no use in trying to see bottom. Now and then the soul is tempted to think that chance, or accident, or lack of foresight, or an enemy of some kind, has lured him out there, just to drown him or to fill him with terror, Nay, it was a loving Guide who led you thither. (E. E. Johnson, M. A.)

Advancement in prayer

Prayer has small beginnings; but it should be progressive, never stationary. It is a science needing practice, and practice in it, as in other sciences, will make perfect. Our Lord bade St. Peter thrust out a little from the land; then He made him launch out into the deep. Our first prayers are a thrusting out a little from the land, a little disengagement of the thoughts, of the affections, from earth. But if we would gain anything, we must not rest satisfied with this, but must, at Christ’s word, launch forth into the deep of spiritual communion with God.

I. Prayer, to be efficacious, must be RECOLLECTED. All the powers of the mind must be drawn off from other matters, and concentrated on Him whom you are addressing. The wandering imagination has to be recalled from those objects about which it plays, like a butterfly round garden flowers, that it may rest on God. The memory is called away from the affairs of ourselves, that it may be used to supply food for the meditation in which we are engaged. The understanding is withdrawn from musing and irrelevant objects, that it may reason and reflect on the matter of our prayer and on the nature of Him to whom we pray. Finally, the will, which runs after a thousand objects which it desires, loves, and takes pleasure in, is fixed on God, and strives to conform itself to the Divine will, producing affections and forming resolutions such as the subject of meditation and devotion exacts.

II. Prayer should be DISENGAGED. After St. Peter had received Jesus into his vessel, he thrust out a little from the land. So, in prayer, the thoughts which are attached to earth, like the moorings of a boat, must be flung loose, or the vessel cannot put to sea.

III. Prayer must be EARNEST. While disengagement resembles a sportsman raising his gun to his shoulder, and recollection represents him sighting his object, earnestness is the charge of powder with which his gun is loaded.

IV. Prayer must be DEFINITE. Vague prayer without a purpose is never very earnest, nor can it be effectual. A good plan is to take one grace at a time, and ask for that, then another, and so on. Definiteness is the bullet to hit the mark.

V. Prayer must be PERSEVERING. This proves that we are in earnest, that we really desire that for which we ask. (S. Baring. Gould, M. A.)

Launching out into the deep

We have toiled in the narrows too long, and have taken little by our toil. Look round you in this nineteenth century of Christendom, and survey what ought to be a kingdom of heaven. We must launch out into the deep, the great human deep, which is in Christ’s dominion, and not in the devil’s, and let down our nets for a draught. We have learnt wisdom perhaps from our faults, our follies, our failures. The Church has toiled in the shallows surrounding her coasts among the souls she could get within her pale. But rarely has man, in his simple human relations and activities, been suffered to feel that as man he was dear to Christ, and a subject of His kingdom. The great evangelical movement began with a noble attempt to fulfil this command. The evangelists saved our State. Voltaire wrote to d’Alembert, when the revolutionary yeast was beginning to work: “We have never pretended to enlighten the cobblers and the maid-servants; we leave that to the apostles.” In a few years those cobblers and maid-servants were flooding the gutters of Paris with the best blood of France; while in England the apostles had tamed them. But the evangelical movement, as the years passed on, shut itself up more and more to its Churches, and treated the great human world, the world of secular thought, activity, and interest, as quite outside its pale. Christ points us to the broad ocean, the great human deep--the relations, the energies, the industries, and the interests, the thoughts, and the sympathies of men, in their physical, intellectual, social, and political life; these we claim for His kingdom, these be it ours to win to His love. Instead of saving souls out of the world, let us save the world with the souls in it. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)

Encouragement to work for God, though unsuccessful

1. Have we to contend in our work with a feeling of its having been fruitless? In the case of sensible labour, there always is some result. How different, on the contrary, is the case of the labourer in the world of mind! Does the feeling of the fruitlessness of our spiritual work oppress and summon us to conflict, or do we bear it lightly? There arc men who know this feeling very well, but, in a certain measure, feel comfortable in it.

2. If the feeling of dejection is now threatening to overcome us, let us not indulge it; let us ask rather how to change it into the joyful confidence of success! And whither shall we go? Where Peter went; with Jesus we find help. The same Peter who now complains, “Lord, we have toiled,” &c., how differently he had, a few moments after, to judge! But still more. Had he not laboured in vain, the Lord had not found him, nor he the Lord. We see here, in a very evident example, how deceitful the feeling of fruitlessness is, and how we should not let ourselves be taken in by it. But not only that--we have also a security for it that labour for spiritual purposes can never be in vain. (Professor Rothe.)

Fishing too near shore

“Launch out into the deep.”

I. This Divine counsel comes, first, to all those who are paddling in THE MARGIN OF BIBLE RESEARCH. My father read the Bible through three times after he was eighty years of age, and without spectacles; not for the mere purpose of saying he had been through it so often, but for his eternal profit. John Colby, the brother-in-law of Daniel Webster, learned to read after he was eighty-four years of age, in order that he might become acquainted with the Scriptures. There is no book in the world that demands so much of our attention as the Bible. Yet nine-tenths of Christian men get no more than ankle-deep. Walk all up and down this Bible domain! Try every path. Plunge in at the prophecies, and come out at the epistles. Go with the patriarchs, until you meet the evangelists. Rummage and ransack, as children who are not satisfied when they come to a new house, until they know what is in every room, and into what every door opens. Open every jewel-casket. Examine the sky-lights. For ever be asking questions. Put to a higher use than was intended the Oriental proverb, “Hold all the skirts of thy mantle extended when Heaven is raining gold.” The sea of God’s Word is not like Gennesaret, twelve miles by six, but boundless; and in any one direction you can sail on for ever. Why, then, confine yourself to a short psalm, or to a few verses of an epistle? The largest fish are not near the shore. Sail away, oh ye mariners, for eternity! Launch out into the deep.

II. The text is appropriate to all CHRISTIANS OF SHALLOW EXPERIENCE. Doubts and fears have in our day been almost elected to the Parliament of Christian graces. Doubts and fears are not signs of health, but festers and carbuncles. You have a valuable house or farm. It is suggested that the title is not good. You employ counsel. You have the deeds examined. You search the record for mortgages, judgments, and liens. You are not satisfied until you have a certificate, signed by the great Seal of the State, assuring you that the title is good. Yet how many leave their title to heaven an undecided matter! Christian character is to come up to higher standards. We have now to hunt through our library to find one Robert M’Cheyne, or one Edward Payson, or one Harlan Page. The time will come when we will find half a dozen of them sitting in the same seat with us. The grace of God can make a great deal better men than those I have mentioned. Christians seem afraid they will get heterodox by going too far.

III. The text is appropriate to all who ARE ENGAGED IN CHRISTIAN WORK. The Church of God has been fishing along the shore. We set our net in a good, calm place, and in sight of a fine chapel, and we go down every Sunday to see if the fish have been wise enough to come into our net. We might learn something from that boy with his hook and line. He throws his line from the bridge: no fish. He sits down on a log: no fish. He stands in the sunlight and casts the line: but no fish. He goes up by the mill-dam, and stands behind the bank, where the fish cannot see him, and he has hardly dropped the hook before the cork goes under. The fish come to him as fast as he can throw them ashore. In other words, in our Christian work, why do we not go where the fish are? It is not so easy to catch souls in church, for they know that we are trying to take them. With the Bible in one pocket, and the hymn-book in another pocket, and a loaf of bread under your arm, launch out into the great deep of this world’s wretchedness.

IV. The text is appropriate TO ALL THE UNFORGIVEN. Every sinner in this house would come to God if he thought that he might come just as he is. People talk as though the pardon of God were a narrow river, like the Kennebec or the Thames, and that their sin draws too much water to enter it. No; it is not a river, nor a bay, but a sea. I should like to persuade you to launch out into the great deep of God’s mercy. I am a merchant. I have bought a cargo of spices in India. I have, through a bill of exchange, paid for the whole cargo. You are a ship-captain. I give you the orders, and say,” Bring me those spices.” You land in India. You go to the trader and say, “Here are the orders”; and you find everything all right. You do not stop to pay the money yourself. It is not your business to pay it. The arrangements were made before you started. So Christ purchases your pardon. He puts the papers, or the promises, into your hand. Is it wise to stop and say, “ I cannot pay for my redemption”? God does not ask you to pay. Relying on what has been done, launch out into the deep. (Dr. Talmage.)


Verse 5

Luke 5:5

Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless, at Thy word--

Obedience to the word of Christ

How very much may simple obedience partake of the sublime l Peter here appeals, quite naturally, to one of the grandest principles which rule among intelligent beings, and to the strongest force which sways the universe.
Great God, it is “at Thy word” that seraphs fly and cherubs bow! Acting in conformity with “Thy word,” we feel ourselves to be in order with all the forces of the universe, travelling on the main track of all real existence. Is not this a sublime condition, even though it be seen in the common deeds of our everyday life?

I. “At Thy word” should apply TO ALL THE AFFAIRS OF ORDINARY LIFE.

1. I mean, first, as to continuance in honest industry (1 Corinthians 7:20). Be diligent. Labour on in hope. Your best endeavours will not of themselves bring you prosperity; still, do not relax those endeavours. God has placed you where you are; move not till His providence calls you. Do not run before the cloud. Let not despondency drive you to anything rash or unseemly.

2. As to seeking for employment, if you have none. Go on seeking. Let men see that a Christian is not readily driven to despair; nay, let them see that when the yoke is made more heavy the Lord has a secret way of strengthening the backs of His children to bear their burdens.

3. It may be that you have been endeavouring in your daily life to acquire skill in your business, and you have not succeeded, or you have tried to acquire more knowledge, so that you could better fulfil your vocation, but hitherto you have not prospered as you could wish. Do not, therefore, cease from your efforts. Christians must never be idlers. Our Lord Jesus would never have it said that His disciples are a sort of cowards who, if they do not succeed the first time, will never try again. At His word let down the net once more: He may intend largely to bless you when by trial you have been prepared to bear the benediction.

II. Is MATTERS OF SPIRITUAL PROFITING We must at the word of Christ let down the net again.

III. The great principle of our text should be applied TO OUR LIFEBUSINESS--soul-winning. Our method of catching men is by letting down the net of the gospel. Each believer has a warrant to seek the conversion of his fellows. The word of the Lord is a warrant which justifies the man who obeys it. It will leave us guilty if we do not obey. This warrant from Christ is one which, if we be in the state of heart of Simon Peter, will be omnipotent with us. It was very powerful with Simon Peter.

1. He was under the influence of a great disappointment. Yet he let down the net.

2. This command in Peter overcame his love of ease.

3. The command of Christ was so supreme over Peter that he was not held back by carnal reason. Reason would say, “If you could not catch fish in the night, you will certainly not do so in the day.” But when Christ commands, the most unlikely time is likely, and the most unpromising sphere becomes hopeful.

4. The lesson to you and me is this: Let us do as Peter did, and let down the net personally, for the apostle said, “I will let down the net.” Cannot you do something yourself--with your own heart, lips, hands?

5. And you had better do it at once. You may never have another opportunity; your zeal may have evaporated, or your life may be over. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The power of God’s word

“At Thy word”--here is the cause of causes, the beginning of the creation of God. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,” and by that word was the present constitution of this round world settled as it stands. When the earth was fruitless and dark, Thy voice, O Lord, was heard, saying, “Let there be light,” and “at Thy word” light leaped forth. “ At Thy word” day and night took up their places, and “at Thy word” the waters were divided from the waters by the firmament of heaven. “At Thy word” the dry land appeared, and the seas retired to their channels. “At Thy word” the globe was mantled over with green, and vegetable life began. “At Thy word” appeared the sun and moon and stars, “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” “At Thy word” the living creatures filled the sea, and air, and land, and man at last appeared. Of all this we are well assured, for by faith we know that the worlds were framed by the word of God. Nor is it in creation alone that the word of the Lord is supreme, but in providence, too, its majestic power is manifested, for “the Lord upholdeth all things by the word of His power.” Snow and vapour and stormy wind are all fulfilling His word. His word runneth very swiftly. When frost binds up the life-floods of the year, the Lord sendeth forth His word and melteth them. Nature abides and moves by the word of the Lord. So, too, all matters of fact and history are beneath the supreme word. Jehovah stands the centre of all things, as Lord of all He abides at the saluting-point, and all the events of the ages come marching by at His word, bowing to His sovereign will. “At Thy word,” O God, kingdoms arise and empires flourish; “at Thy word” races of men become dominant, and tread down their fellows; “at Thy word” dynasties die, kingdoms crumble, mighty cities become a wilderness, and armies of men melt away like the hoar frost of the morning. Despite the sin of men and the rage of devils, there is a sublime sense in which all things from the beginning, since Adam crossed the threshold of Eden even until now, have happened according to the purpose and will of the Lord of hosts. Prophecy utters her oracles, and history writes her pages, “at Thy word,” O Lord. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Peter and nature in harmony

It is wonderful to think of the fisherman of Galilee letting down his net in perfect consonance with all the arrangements of the ages. His net obeys the law which regulates the spheres. His hand consciously does what Arcturus and Orion are doing without thought. This little bell on the Galilean lake rings out in harmony with the everlasting chimes. “At Thy word,” saith Peter, as he promptly obeys, therein repeating the watchword of seas and stars, of winds and worlds. It is glorious thus to be keeping step with the marchings of the armies of the King of kings. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

“At Thy word” the watchword of the saints

“At Thy word” has been the password of all good men from the beginning until now. Saints have acted upon these three words, and found their marching orders in them. An ark is builded on dry land, and the ribald crowd gather about the hoary patriarch, laughing at him; but he is not ashamed, for, lifting his face to heaven, he saith, “I have builded this great vessel, O Jehovah, at Thy word.” Abraham quits the place of his childhood, leaves his family, and goes with Sarah to a land of which he knows nothing, crossing the broad Euphrates, and entering upon a country possessed by the Canaanite, in which he roams as a stranger and a sojourner all his days. He dwells in tents with Isaac and Jacob. If any scoff at him for thus renouncing the comforts of settled life, he lifts also his calm face to heaven, and smilingly answers to the Lord, “It is at Thy word.” Ay, and even when his brow is furrowed, and the hot tear is ready to force itself from beneath the patriarch’s eyelid, as he lifts his hand with the knife to stab Isaac to the heart, if any charge him with murder, or think him mad, he lifts the same placid face towards the majesty of the Most High and saith, “It is at Thy word.” At that word he joyfully sheathes the sacrificial knife, for he has proved his willingness to go to the utmost at the word of the Lord his God. If I were to introduce you to a thousand of the faithful ones who have shown the obedience of faith, in every case they would justify their acts by telling you that they did them “ at God’s word.” Moses lifts his rod in presence of haughty Pharaoh, “at Thy word,” great God! Nor does he lift that rod in vain at Jehovah’s word, for thick and heavy fall the plagues upon the children of Ham. They are made to know that God’s word returneth not to Him void, but fulfilleth His purpose, whether it be of threatening or of promise. See Moses lead the people out of Egypt, the whole host in its myriads! Mark how he has brought them to the Red Sea, where the wilderness doth shut them in. The heights frown on either side, and the rattle of Egypt’s war-chariots is behind. How came Moses so to play the fool and bring them here? Were there no graves in Egypt that thus he brought them forth to die on the Red Sea shore? The answer of Moses is the quiet reflection that he did it at Jehovah’s word, and God justifies that word, for the sea opens wide a highway for the elect of God, and they march joyfully through, and with timbrels and dances on the other side they sing unto the Lord who hath triumphed gloriously. If in after days you find Joshua compassing Jericho, and not assailing it with battering rams, but only with one great blast of trumpets, his reason is that God has spoken to him by His word. And so right on, for time would fail me to speak of Samson, and Jephthah, and Barak: these men did what they did at God’s word; and, doing it, the Lord was with them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A net for each one to let down

Peter only let down one net, and there was the pity of it. If John and James and all the rest had let down their nets, the result would have been much better. “Why?” say you. Because, through there being only one net, that net was overstrained, and broke. If all the nets had been used, they might have taken more fish, and no net would have been broken. I was reading some time ago of a take of mackerel at Brighton; when the net was full, the mackerel slicking in all the meshes made it so heavy that the fishermen could not raise it, and the boat itself was in some danger of going down, so that they had to cut away the net and lose the fish. Had there been many nets and boats, they might have buoyed up the whole of the fish; and so they might have done in this case. As it was, many fish were lost through the breaking of the net. If a Church can be so awakened that each individual gets to work in the power of the Holy Spirit, and all the individuals combine, then how many souls will be captured for Jesus l Multitudes of souls are lost to the blessed gospel because of our broken nets, and the nets get broken because we are not well united in the holy service, and by our unwisdom cause loss to our Master’s cause. Ministers need not become worn out with labour if all would take their share: one boat would not begin to sink if the other boats took a part of the blessed load. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Many are in need through their own fault

“ We have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing.” This complaint is often heard nowadays, also. Although many poor people may assert, with perfect truth, that they have laboured hard, yet there are many others whose poverty is through their own fault. Some of the faulty occasions are the following.

I. LAZINESS. Many show neither zeal nor industry in the discharge of the duties of their calling. Poverty is the necessary consequence.

1. According to the testimony of Scripture (Proverbs 18:9; Pro_21:5).

2. Reason and experience. How can he catch fishes who will not let down his net?

II. LAVISHNESS.

1. Many dissipate their property through folly.

2. Through extravagance in food and dress (Proverbs 21:17; Pro_23:11).

III. WANT OF FEAR OF GOD.

1. God deprives those who do not fear Him of His blessing.

2. He visits them with sickness, and all kinds of misfortune. (J. J. Haubs.)

Christ’s words, and not our own judgment, are our law

“Sir,” said the Duke of Wellington to an officer who urged the impossibility of executing the directions he had received, “I did not ask your opinion; I gave you my orders, and I expect to have them obeyed.” Such should be the obedience of every follower of Jesus Christ. The words which He has spoken are our law, not our judgment or fancies.

Perseverance necessary

The fishermen at Mentone keep on fishing with their great net; ay, by the score these fishermen take it out and haul it in again, and frequently they get no more than one little sardine for their pains. Many and many a time no more than they can hold in their hand is the produce of the casting of a net which covers acres of the sea. But why do they go on? Because they are fishermen, and cannot do anything else. Now, we are praying men, and there is nothing else we can do but wait upon the Lord. So if, after many a throw of the net of prayer, we get but one small answer, we will try again, for this is all we can do. Let us continue instant in prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

At Thy word

These fishermen are not the men who could be charged with originating the gospel. Yet let us not suppose that there was no fitness in them for the work they had to do. Their very occupation was one which bred and nourished those very qualities which would stand them in good stead as the apostles of Christ. Their calling was one which demanded observation, that they might discern the times most favourable. They had to scan narrowly the sky, and discern whether there were signs of a coming tempest, for the Sea of Galilee was treacherous, and would often rise into fury in a few moments. Hence they needed both prudence and courage. And they needed both patience and perseverance too. The previous night had been one of no new experience to them. The new day was to be the greatest in their lives. They were to be clothed with a new mission, and strengthened for it by a new experience. The secret of their success was to be revealed to them by a miracle, the memory of which would nerve and strengthen them in the days to come. The command, “Launch out,” &c., was a strange one, but still it was the command of the Lord.

I. OBEDIENCE TO THE WORD OF CHRIST. Wise to have authority for every work we undertake. Enough for the soldier that he has the authority of his officer, for the officer that he has the authority of his general, for the ambassador that he has the authority of his king, and for the Christian labourer that he has the authority of Christ. “Nevertheless,” said Peter--that is, not because of success, but in spite of failure--“at Thy word I will let down the net.” And still the word “nevertheless” is on the lips of the Church. Difficulties in the way of missionary enterprise. Arguments of those who hold that heathen races should be allowed to remain undisturbed in their religions. The slow progress we are making. “Nevertheless, at Thy word,” &c. We must walk by faith, not by sight, not only in our own personal life, but in looking at the progress of the kingdom of Christ. “ It is not given to you to know.” These are the Saviour’s words. It is enough for us to feel assured that patient labour cannot, will not, fail, and to say, amid all discouragement and delay, “Nevertheless,” &c.

II. THE RESULT OF THIS OBEDIENCE. It had in it not much of cheerfulness, nor perhaps, any faith, but it was obedience under trying circumstanses, and as such it was crowned with success. The failure of the previous night was not unforeseen or unarranged. Christ was in that failure as much as in the success that followed it. The lesson was--empty nets without His blessing and full nets with it. And this lesson they were to remember henceforth when they should become fishers of men. Be sure that Peter would remember that morning on the day of Pentecost, when at the first casting of the gospel-net he enclosed 3,000 souls; and a few days after, when, on casting the net again, there were added to the Church 5,000 souls. The night of failure was not without its lesson and benefit. We can do worse than fail--we can succeed and be proud of our success, and burn incense to our net, and despise those who fail, and forget the Hand whose it is to give or to withhold. (E. Mellor, D. D.)

The spiritual fishing

First, the state of the world, which is as the sea. Secondly, the state of the Church, which is as a ship or boat in the sea. Thirdly, the state of men by nature, who be as fishes, ranging after their own disposition uncaught. Fourthly, the state of ministers, who be as fishers. Fifthly, the state of the gospel preached, which is the hook, or bait, or net to take souls.

I. AND THE STATE OF THE WORLD IS AS THE SEA IN A FOUR-FOLD RESPECT.

1. Because of the general unstableness of the things thereof. The unsettledness of that vast creature, the sea, is well known. It is in a continual motion (it cannot rest), it ebbs and flows perpetually: sometimes (at a spring tide) it swells to that bigness that the banks cannot contain it; sometimes, again, it falls back so low, that a man must go far from the bank before he can come near it. It is (under God) chiefly governed by the moon, the which there is no one thing more subject unto chance, it being never beheld two nights together in one proportion. Thus is the world, whether we look upon the general states of kingdoms or the personal estates of particular men, either for their goods or for their bodies, we see nothing but a continual alteration. Crowns are translated from head to head, and sceptres pass from one hand to another; fenced cities are made heaps, and walled towns become as the ploughed fields; they which were once fastened as with a nail in a sure place, and having set their nests on high, dreamed of nothing but perpetuities for them and theirs, are suddenly thrown out of all, and rolled and turned like a ball.

2. Because of the tumultuousness of it. Who is ignorant of the storms and grievous tempests which are at sea?

3. The world resembles the sea by the oppression that is in it. At sea the lesser fishes are a prey to the great ones; and in the world the rich and mighty swallow up the poor; one man bites and devours another.

4. In respect of the sway the devil bears in it. Observe what is in the Psalm, “The sea is great and wide, there is that leviathan whom the Lord hath made to play therein.” Now, look how this monster domineers in the sea, so doth Satan here in the world; therefore he is called the god of this world.

II. The next thing is touching the Church. THE STATE THEREOF IN THE WORLD IS LIKE THE STATE OF A SHIP OR BOAT UPON THE SEA and that especially in this respect--because it is subject to continual tossings.

1. The troubles of His Church and the afflictions of His people do make His power and mercy to be known; even as the skill of a pilot is most to be seen in a storm: “My power is made perfect through weakness.”

2. For their good. First, it makes them to look upward with the greater fervency. The second use serves to teach us (because the Church of God is as a ship in this sea of the world) the necessity of furnishing ourselves with such things as appertain to this spiritual voyage. Not to insist upon many, two things especially must be looked to.

III. THE THIRD THING IS CONCERNING THE STATE OF MEN. The fish to be catched out of this sea and to be brought into this ship are men. “Thou shalt catch men from henceforth.” And well in this arc we compared unto the fish. For as the fishes skip and play and take their pleasure in the sea and are unwillingly taken in the net, and labour to get out, and, being in the boat, would fain, if they could, leap back into the sea, so naturally we take pleasure in our sinful ways.

IV. THE FOURTH THING IS OF THE STATE OF THE MINISTER. Here are two things.

1. The state of the minister.

2. The labour, business, and work of the minister. Of the first thus we see: That is no superfluous or needless function, but a calling of great necessity for the winning and saving of men’s souls. Secondly, thus: That the calling of the minister is no idle calling, but a calling of labour, a calling of much business and of great employment.

V. The last thing is, THAT THE NET IN WHICH MEN MUST RE TAKEN IS THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL. The comparison agreeth fitly after this manner. The preaching of the gospel is like to a net--

1. In the general drift and use. The use of a net is to take fish, the drift of preaching is to bring in souls.

2. In the ordering of it. It is not that net lapped up together that bringeth in the draught, but hailed out at length, and spread forth, that closeth the fish; it is the opening and unfolding of the gospel, the stretching it out by preaching, which doth encompass souls. There may a fish or two hang in the net, being let down on a heap, but that is a chance, and is no wise adventuring. The Word read, and so brought in (as it were) in gross, may (by the mercy of God) take some; but we have no warrant from thence to make a rule general. Again, it is need that the net be strong, otherwise the greater kind will break through and make all the labour and charge to be in vain; so it is meet that the doctrine he well strengthened out of the Word of God, that if it be well proved, that it be well pressed and applied, that the consciences of the hearers may be convicted, and that they may see it is God and not man with whom they have to do: for, a man shall meet with many froward and wilful and violent natures that will not be held in, but when they feel themselves within the net will cry, “Let us break their bands, and cast their cords from us “: so that even a kind of violence may be used to keep them from destruction.

3. In the success of it. Many a draught the poor fisherman makes and taketh nothing, yet he leaveth not off. Many a time is the net of preaching shot forth, and yet none converted thereby; so it pleaseth God to exercise the patience of His servants. Yet still the work must be followed, and the Lord’s leisure must be waited for. Often doth the net enclose many which yet after break away, and many are at first drawn in by the power of the gospel which yet afterwards slide back and return again to their own profaneness. (S. Hieron.)

Unsuccessful fishing persevered in

I. CONSIDER THE FAILURE INDICATED.

1. They had “toiled.” Everything in this world comes to be a “toil” after a time. Any kind of labour, whether of mind or body, and even pleasure, is devoid of permanent satisfaction.

2. “All the night.” Incessant labour, with no result but failure. The process is familiar--

II. THERE MUST BE REASON FOR SUCH FAILURE. The general reason is the absence of Divine blessing. “Except the Lord build the house,” &c. He alone is the Author of all good. But there are further considerations to be taken into account.

1. Perhaps God has not been present in our efforts. They may have lacked--

2. Human perversity may for a time be permitted to have its way. The reason for this is hidden now; we shall know one day why it is so. Or--

3. God may have withheld His blessing--

III. NOTE THE PERSEVERING OBEDIENCE OF FAITH. In spite of failure the apostles did not despair. So should it be with us.

1. The command of Christ is our warrant for labour.

2. And suggests the better performance of work.

3. Such labour is bound to be ultimately successful. Because of His Word and our obedience. When, and how, we know not. In His time and way. But surely and certainly. (George Low, M. A.)

The disappointed seamen

Now, if we search into the grounds and reasons of these disappointments by the hand of Providence, we shall find them reducible to a threefold cause and reason.

1. The sovereign pleasure of God so disposes it.

2. The good of the people of God requires it.

3. The manifold sins of men in their callings provoke it.

1. The sovereign pleasure of God so disposes it. He is the Rector of the universe, and as such will still assert His dominion. If Providence had alike prospered every man’s designs, and set them upon a level, there had been no occasion to exercise the rich man’s charity or the poor man’s patience. Nay, without frequent disappointments, itself would scarcely be owned in successes, nor those successes be half so sweet to them that receive them, as now they are. The very beauty of Providence consists much in these various and contrary effects.

2. And if we consider the gracious ends and designs of God towards His own people, it appears needful that all of them, in some things, and many of them in most things (relating to their outward condition in this world), should be frustrated in their expectations and contrivances. For if all things here should succeed according to their wish, and a constant tide of prosperity should attend them--

3. And as disappointments fall out as the effects of sovereign pleasure, and are ordered as preventive means of such mischief, which prosperity would occasion to the people of God; so it comes as a righteous retribution and punishment of the many evils that are committed in our trading and dealings with men. It is a hard thing to have much business pass through our hands, and no iniquity cleave to them and defile them. And, from among many, I will here select these following evils, which have destroyed the estates and hopes of many.

Inference 1. Doth God sometimes disappoint the most diligent labours of men in their lawful callings? Then this teacheth you patience and submission under your crosses and disappointments.

Consideration 1. And, in the first place, if thou be one that fearest God, consider that disappointments in earthly things fix no mark of God’s hatred upon thee. The bee makes a sweeter meal upon two or three flowers, than the ox that hath so many mountains to graze upon.

Consideration 2. And what if by these disappointments God be carrying on the great design of His eternal love upon thy soul? This may be the design of these providences; and if so, sure there is no cause for thy despondencies.

Consideration 3. Be patient under disappointments; for if you meekly submit and quietly wait upon God, He can quickly repair all that you have lost and restore it by other providences double to you.

Consideration 4. And why should it seem so hard and grievous to you for God to disappoint your hopes and purposes, when you cannot but know that you have disappointed His expectations from you so often, and that in greater and better things than these?

Inference 2. If it be so, then labour to make sure of things eternal, lest you be eternally disappointed there also. (J. Flavel.)


Verse 6

Luke 5:6; Luk_5:11

And when they had thus done, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes, and the net brake

The desponding encouraged

I.
IS DISCHARGING THE DUTIES OF LIFE OUR BEST ENDEAVOURS MAY APPEAR FRUITLESS. Always discouraging to toil without success: in learning, business, religion. Our failures often arise--

(1) through inexperience;

None of these the case with Peter however. An experienced fisherman, and had toiled all the night. Continued fruitlessness ought to awaken candid investigation. Are we in a right sphere of labour? Are we labouring in a right spirit? We may be, and yet our best endeavours appear fruitless.

II. IN DISCHARGING THE DUTIES OF LIFE: WE MUST OBEY THE COMMANDS OF CHRIST.

1. In obeying Christ, Peter’s faith rose above natural difficulties.

2. In obeying Christ, Peter’s faith rested on Christ’s command “At Thy word.” No one else could have persuaded him to let down the net.

3. In obeying Christ, Peter’s faith led to decisive action--“I will let down the net.” Cultivate the habit of decision. The decisive man will catch his fish while the negligent man is preparing his nets.

III. IN DISCHARGING THE DUTIES OF LIFE, WE SHALL ULTIMATELY BE SUCCESSFUL. Success may be delayed for a time; but it will come. At the very moment of our failure God purposes to fill our nets. (J. Woodhouse.)

“The livelong night we’ve toiled in vain,

But at Thy gracious word

I will let down the net again:

Do Thou Thy will, O Lord.”

So spake the weary fisher, spent

With bootless, darkling toil,

Yet on his Master’s bidding bent,

For love and not for spoil.

So day by day, and week by week,

In sad and weary thought,

They muse, whom God hath set to seek

The souls His Christ hath bought.

Full many a dreary, anxious hour

We watch our nets alone

In drenching spray and driving shower,

And hear the night-bird’s moan.

At morn we look and nought is there

Sad dawn of cheerless day!

Who then from pining and despair

The sickening heart can stay?

There is a stay--and we are strong!

Our Master is at hand,

To cheer our solitary song,

And guide us to the strand.

In His own time; but yet awhile

Our bark at sea must ride

Cast after cast, by force or guise

All waters must be tried.

Should e’er Thy wonder-working grace

Triumph by our weak arm,

Lot not our sinful fancy trace

Aught human in the charm.

Or, if for our unworthiness,

Toil, prayer, and watching fail,

In disappointment Thou canst bless,

So love at heart prevail.

(J. Keble.)

Weariness and faith

I. It is A voice OF FATIGUE AND LASSITUDE TRYING TO STEADY ITSELF FOR FRESH EFFORT.

II. IT IS THE VOICE, ALSO, OF DEFEAT AND DISAPPOINTMENT TRYING TO RALLY ITSELF FOR FRESH ENTERPRISE.

III. The word “Nevertheless” introduces THE GRAND CONTRAST AND ANTITHESIS OF THE TEXT. Gather into one all the heads and threads of discourse--we are weary of the monotony of life, weary of the perpetual round of doing and being, disappointed with the result of life, with what we are to-day in Thy sight--beings occupying a point and not more, between two eternities. Nevertheless, at Thy word, because Thou speakest in our ears today and sayest, “Launch out into the deep, the inscrutable future, the future of time and of eternity”; yes, at Thy word--otherwise we were languid and depressed and disappointed and could not--at Thy word we will once again, to-day, let down the net. (Dean Vaughan.)

The Galilean fishers

Our subject is perseverance in duty in the absence of seeming success.

1. Illustrate it by the circumstances of our earthly life. Let duty always take precedence of pleasure; let recreation never be thought of till it is fairly earned: let no engagements be entered into beyond what can be met, and no expenditure be indulged in beyond a man’s income. Let no neglect of our own prudence, and our own duty, be excused by the idle plea of relying upon God’s providence without ourselves exercising the self-help on which God’s providence is conditional. On such principles, as a general rule, success will reward effort, and the net judiciously cast will not fail to enclose the fish. There are, of course, exceptions. Without any fault on the part of the workman his labour may be in vain. What shall those do who may truly say, “we have toiled all night,” &c.? Give up in despair? Nay. Let down the net again.

2. Apply this to higher industries. The case of a soul seeking heaven. The work of preacher, Sunday-school teacher, Bible-woman, tract-distributor, Christian missionary. (Newman Hall, LL. B.)

Faith triumphant in failure

Miracles of our Lord are parables. Because the record is literally true that it is spiritually instructive. The terms success and failure have a large range in human life. Some men are born, we say, to succeed. Nothing that man possesses can, however, guarantee results. Circumstances which man controls not, changes which he cannot foresee, have a wide operation, and under their influence it is seen again and again that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Failure comes where success was certain; success where every one foresaw failure. If a man has found heaven he may bear to have lost earth. But is it not true that failure has place also in spiritual things? Is there no such thing as a toiling all the night and taking nothing in the matters of that world which is of the soul and of eternity? The history of the Church of Christ is full of answers to that question. What long dark nights has it had to toil through! But of this we are sure, that the long toil of the night, however little rewarded, was essential to the marvellous success of the morning. The attitude of the true Church on earth has ever been characterized by the brief words selected as the topic of this sermon, “Faith triumphant in failure.” And how shall we say that the case stands now for us? Are we living in a night or in a morning? It is far better to be labouring in the blackest night, than to fancy ourselves gathering with Christ when we are indeed scattering without Him. But for ourselves, and for others, let faith triumph over failure. I know that every failure is a proof of the want of faith. I know that if faith were present, failure could not be. But there is such a thing as faith, after defeats, returning to the charge, and it is in that that the test of our Christianity lies. A man who can come back to Christ, and say, “Lord, I have slept at my post; I have let my oars drop; I have often left my net unmended until it could enclose nothing; I have suffered weariness to make me indolent, and long disappointment to make me hopeless. I have clone all this, but yet--even now--even thus late--I will, once again, at Thy word, let down my net, and wait Thy blessing,” that man may have many faults, he may be much behindhand, he may be full of infirmity and of sin, but he has the root of the matter in him; he has a little faith, and according to that faith shall it be to him. That man knows something, however little, of a faith triumphant in failure. Christ stands, as of old, upon the shore, and asks us of our welfare. He enters, as of old, into the little vessel which contains our fortunes: He feels for its frailness, He will guide its fittings, He will steer it for us into the haven where we would be. Hitherto we may have toiled and taken nothing; but if, at His word, we will now let down the net, He will bring into it that which shall be sufficient for us, and man’s failure shall be Christ’s success. (Dean Vaughan.)

A night of toil: the philosophy of failure

The sea-shore was often the Lord’s retreat. By the shore lines of Galilee He wandered, and amid the voiceful hush of nature His soul found rest. Our scene opens in the morning on that sea made so sacred with associations of our Lord. On the beach, drawn up a little, were two fishing-boats. They had been out all night, trying, but unsuccessfully, all waters. The fishermen were washing their nets some little distance away with disconsolate faces. A night spent in toiling, and the morning dawning upon no fruit of effort, might well make them sad. These men had apparently failed, but there were elements in their failure which led to success.

I. CHRIST CAME TO THEM WHEN THEY WERE FEELING THEIR FAILURE. But He found them working.

II. THEIR WORKING THUS IN FAILURE AND THEIR WILLINGNESS TO TRY AGAIN SHADOWED THEIR FITNESS FOR HIGHER WORK. The Lord was choosing gospel-pioneers. There was in these men--

1. Natural aptitude.

2. Industry.

3. Foresight.

4. Willinghood.

III. LET US HEAR CHRIST’S WORDS OF COMMANDING EFFORT AS ADDRESSED TO US--“Launch out into the deep.”

1. There are prayers unanswered and we are weary. You have, perhaps, been hugging the shore of self--throw yourself and yours more upon the deep of God s unfailing faithfulness and mercy.

2. You have been fishing in shallow waters, teaching your children, your scholars, your people, with that which was cheaply got and therefore little worth. Launch out into the ocean of God’s truth.

3. You have had your religious crotchets. Launch out into broader spiritedness, deeper sympathies, more catholic charity.

“O, stirring words of living power,

Ye speak to every heart;

Ye bid all selfishness away,

And slothful ease depart.

Where’er there is a soul to cheer,

Where’er the mourners weep,

There, bear the healing balm of love,

‘Launch out into the deep!’

O, watchword brave for those who sail Across the sea of life, Steer far away from every rock With awful dangers rife. Leave all the shallows and the neap; Far in the distance keep; Strike boldly right amid the waves ‘Launch out into the deep!’” (W. Scott.)

Gospel for the fifth Sunday after Trinity

This was the final call of the disciples. Notice with what exquisite skill it is managed.

I. There is THE CROWD PRESSING UPON CHRIST TO HEAR THE WORD OF GOD. To a shepherd they might seem sheep to be folded; to a gardener, plants to be tended; but to a fisherman they would suggest swarming fish, ready to be swept into a net. Then comes the miraculous draught, the “great multitude of fishes” corresponding with the multitude of the people. What could be more appropriate?

II. Then we have THE DIVINE POWER OF CHRIST OVER THE DENIZENS OF THE DEEP, SYMBOLIZING HIS POWER OVER THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF MEN.

Probably Peter (whom we may take as representative of the rest) may have smiled when he heard the command (Luke 5:4). But he obeyed. And when he saw the draught of fishes, and caught a glimpse of hundreds and thousands of human beings drawn into the meshes of the gospel-net.

III. THE EFFECT OF THE MIRACLE WAS TO REVEAL THE TRUE CHARACTER OF CHRIST TO PETER AND TO REVEAL PETER TO HIMSELF. Before Isaiah could go as a messenger to the people he must have a vision of the Holy God, and be bowed down under a sense of his own sinfulness. So with Peter. Whether he clearly saw at this time the whole truth of the Godhead of Christ it may be hazardous to affirm. But this is clear, that he felt himself in the presence of One who represented the holiness of God. And he shrank from Him, yet was attracted towards Him. “Depart from me”; but his inner heart says, “Stay with me.” The work was done. “They forsook all and followed Him” (verse 11). (G. Calthrop, M. A.)

The miraculous draught of fishes

I. We have here ENCOURAGEMENT TO PERSEVERANCE.

II. LEARN THAT CONVICTION OF SIN IS DEEPENED BY KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST.

III. Learn that HUMILITY IS THE BEST PREPARATION FOR ENTERING UPON CHRISTIAN WORK.

IV. Learn HOW TO RESPOND TO A GREAT CALL--BY FORSAKING ALL. (D. Longwill.)

Place of the miracle in the history

The interest in this case centres not in the miraculous element, but in the two questions: Is the incident historical? and is it in its true place in the history? The circumstances that the narrative is found only in one of the Synoptical Gospels, and that not, as we might have expected, the one containing the Petrine tradition; that an incident is recorded in the appendix to the fourth Gospel so similar as to suggest the hypothesis of a duplicate; and that an emblematic significance is assigned to the occurrence in the words reported to have been spoken by Jesus, lend plausibility to the notion that we have to do here not with an actual event, but simply with a symbolic story invented to embody the promise made to Peter by his Master that he should become a fisher of men. Of those who are prepared to recognize in the incident something more than a metaphor transformed into a fact, some have doubted whether it is in its true place in Luke’s Gospel, and ought not rather to be assigned to the post-resurrection period, as in the fourth Gospel. In this connection stress is laid on the exclamation of Peter on seeing the great draught of fish, “Depart from me,” &c., which, as connected with the period of the first call to the discipleship, seems to lack point and appropriateness, but gains deep meaning when conceived of as spoken by Peter when his humiliating denial of his Lord was fresh in his recollection. But one has no great difficulty in imagining such an excitable, impressionable man as Peter uttering the words at any time, without any special occasion for calling his sin to mind, viewing them simply as an expression of reverence. Strauss characterizes Peter’s fear as superstitious, and not at all New-Testament like. Granted, but what then? Was it to be expected that the disciples at the time of their first call should be men of the New Testament in their thoughts and feelings? On the contrary, was it not the very aim of their vocation that they might be associated with Christ, and in His company gradually imbibe the spirit of the new Christian era, the era of the better hope, when we no longer stand off in fear, but draw nigh to God in filial trust? Peter’s exclamation, as reported by Luke, is in keeping with the initial period of discipleship, and just on that account it supplies no ground for transferring the incident to the later period when discipleship was about to pass into apostleship. At that late time Peter might have more reason than ever before for calling himself a sinful man, but his sense of unworthiness was not so likely then to express itself in the form of a “Depart from me.” Looking at the incident in connection with its probable aim, it seems equally appropriate at the beginning and at the end of the history. Christ’s purpose was to inspire Peter with enthusiasm for his spiritual vocation. There was a need for this at both periods, and in view of this fact it becomes credible that the narratives of Luke and John are not variations of the same history, but records of distinct events. The earlier event served the purpose of winning Peter to the life of discipleship, the later of inspiring him with devotion to the heroic career of the apostolate. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)

The nature of the miracle

As for the nature of the action recorded, it has been variously conceived as a miracle of power controlling the movements of the fish and directing them into a particular course, or of supernatural knowledge of the place where the fish were to be found at a certain moment, or of prophetic clairvoyance in the exercise of a faculty natural to man, but possessed by Jesus in a preternatural degree, or so far as Jesus was concerned a mere act of trust in a special providence of God making itself subservient to His designs. It is not necessary, and the narrative does not enable us, to decide peremptorily between these various views. We arc not even absolutely shut up to the belief that there was a miracle in the case in any form or degree. It is not an impossible supposition that the knowledge possessed by Jesus was such as might be obtained by observation. Traces of such a great shoal of fish might be visible on the surface to any one who might be looking in the proper direction. A well-known writer [Canon Tristram] remarks, “The density of the shoals of fish in the Sea of Galilee can scarcely be conceived by those who have not witnessed them. Frequently these shoals cover an acre or more of the surface, and the fish, as they slowly move along in masses, are so crowded, with their back fins just appearing on the level of the water, that their appearance at a little distance is that of a violent shower of rain pattering on the surface.” But, while this description clearly proves the possibility of becoming aware of the presence of a shoal by observation, the supposition that our Lord acquired the knowledge which enabled Him to give directions to the fishermen in this way, is rendered very improbable by the fact that the draught of fish appeared to Peter marvellous not only in itself, but in connection with the agency of Jesus; for that he recognized Jesus as somehow the cause of the extraordinary and utterly unlooked-for success is manifest in his words. Yet it is noticeable that the narrative does not lay stress on that agency in explaining the emotions of Peter and his companions, but simply on the quantity of fish taken (Luke 5:9). And it may be admitted that the purpose of the transaction did not absolutely demand a miracle. Christ’s aim was not merely to attach the disciples to Himself, but to fire them with zeal for their new vocation. For that end what was wanted was not a mere miracle as displaying supernatural power or knowledge, but an experience in connection with their old vocation which, whether brought about miraculously or otherwise, should take possession of their imagination as an emblem of the great future which lay before them in their new career as apostles, or fishers of men. The phenomenal draught of fish, however brought about, fulfilled this purpose better than a small take would have done, even though the fish had been expressly created before the eyes of the disciples. Such a miracle would have filled them with astonishment and wonder, but it would not have awakened in their breasts wondering thoughts and high hopes in reference to the work and progress of the Divine Kingdom. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)

All through the long night’s mist and rain,

In open sea or near the shore,

They cast their nets, yet still in vain;

They found but failure evermore.

‘Twas time to cleanse from tangled weed,

And lay them on the beach to dry:

When lo! in hour of utmost need,

They heard the voice of Jesus nigh.

They cast their nets again, and lo!

So large the haul of fish they take,

The meshes gape, and scarce they know

If they shall land them ere they break.

And then a chill of sudden fear,

As though the veil of sense were rent,

And they, frail men, were brought too near

The scope of some Divine intent.

Oh, could they bear that presence dread,

Before whose keen and piercing sight

Lie bare the hearts of quick and dead,

The world’s great Teacher, Light of light

What wonder if from pallid lips

The cry bursts out, “Depart from me”?

Too bright that full apocalypse

For man’s sin-darkened eyes to see.

“Sin-stained am I, and Thou art pure

Oh, turn Thy steps some other way;

How shall I dare Thy gaze endure?

How in Thy stainless presence stay.”

Yet chiefly when unlooked-for gains

Our skill-less, planless labours bless.

And we, for weary labour’s pains,

Reap the full harvest of success;

We wonder at the draught we take,

The latent powers that bud and grow!

Ah, can we dare our work forsake,

And follow where He bids us go?

“Yes, fear ye not,” so ran His speech

“Fishers of men ye now must be,

Where’er the world’s wide waters reach,

By gliding stream or stormiest sea.”

So only can we hope restore,

So only conquer shame and fear,

And welcome, from the eternal shore,

The voice that tells “our Lord is near.”

(Dean Plumptre in “Poet’s Bible.)

Christ with the Galilean fishermen

1. The rank of life from which Jesus Christ chose the men who were to be the chief ministers of His religion, is worthy of particular notice. We see that His ministers were, in general, of lowly station; and yet we at the same time know that their instructions and influence, far surpassed those of the most learned and powerful men the world had ever seen. Principles were disseminated by fishermen and tent-makers, which, from the very first, excited the admiration of many, and which, in the process of time, effected a complete revolution in the religious sentiments of the civilized world. Does not this afford an irrefragable argument for the Divine origin of the gospel? Whence had such men such things? Let us beware of neglecting anything they delivered.

2. Let us mark the honour here put on honest industry. Duty requires us to be diligent in the proper duties of our station and profession in life. No matter how humble our employment, Christ will accept us in it, visit us in it, and bless us in it.

3. The success of human industry depends on the blessing of Providence. If given, let us thank God for it; if withheld, let us not murmur, but cheerfully acquiesce in the Divine will.

4. An encouraging example of implicit and persevering obedience to the Divine commandment.

5. Instruction to ministers, in their employment being compared to that of fishermen.

6. The necessity of forsaking all, in order to follow Christ. (James Foote, M. A.)

The blessed fishermen

Blest--

The just means of gaining temporal blessing

1. God’s word.

2. Labour.

3. Trust in God.

4. Acknowledgment of personal unworthiness.

5. Right use of the blessing. (Heubner.)

The remarkable transitions in the life of faith

1. From disappointment to surprise.

2. From want to plenty.

3. From joy to terror.

4. From fear to hope. (Van Oosterzee.)

The faith of Peter

Peter’s faith--

The obedience of faith

1. Its ground.

2. Its nature.

3. Its blessing. (Van Oosterzee.)

An image of the preaching of the gospel

1. The wide-reaching command (Luke 5:4).

2. The hard labour (verse 50).

3. The sole might (verse 56).

4. The rich fruit (Luke 5:6-7).

5. The right temper (Luke 5:8).

6. The highest requirement of the evangelical function (Luke 5:10-11). (Van Oosterzee.)

Peter an example for us

1. Hear when the Lord speaks.

2. Labour when the Lord commands.

3. Believe what the Lord promises.

4. Follow whither the Lord calls. (Fuchs.)

Blessing in our temporal calling

1. On what it depends.

2. Of what nature it is.

3. For what it inspirits us. (Lisco.)

Failure and success

I. THE FISHERMEN’S FAILURE.

1. It was simply failure; disgrace did not attend it. They had done their best, and it was not their fault that they were unsuccessful. Better to say, “I toiled all the night, and caught nothing,” than, “I cast in the net, and caught one thousand fish without an effort.”

2. It was overruled for good. God often teaches that the years of plenty are from Him, by prefacing them with years of famine.

3. It did not produce despair.

4. No faithful toil is without reward. What we call failure is, in God’s account, oftentimes brightest success.

II. THE FISHERMEN’S SUCCESS.

1. It was miraculous. In two respects--that they caught so many, and, though the net brake, saved all.

2. But by ordinary means. No success without diligent labour.

3. They had much anxiety--“The net brake.” Yet this apparent accident was a source of good--co-operation.

4. Their minds seem to have been pervaded by deepest awe. “They beckoned”--not shouted, as in ordinary circumstances they would have done.

5. To enjoy success, we must have a present Lord.

6. Success should lead us to follow Christ more fully. (R. A. Griffin.)

The two draughts of fishes

We have heard of some ministers who could say that they had often preached from the same text, but they had never delivered the same discourse. The like may be said of Christ. He often preached upon the same truth, but it was never precisely in the same manner. We have read in your hearing this morning the narrative of two miracles (Luke 5:1-39. and John 21:1-25.) which seem to the casual observer to be precisely alike; but he who shall read diligently and study carefully, will find that though the text is the same in both, yet the discourse is full of variations. In both the miraculous draughts of fishes, the text is the mission of the saints to preach the gospel--the work of mancatching--the ministry by which souls are caught in the net of the gospel, and brought out of the element of sin to their eternal salvation.

I. Is THESE TWO MIRACLES THERE ARE MANY POINTS OF UNIFORMITY. They are both intended to set forth the way in which Christ’s kingdom shall increase.

1. First you will perceive that in both miracles we are taught that the means must be used. In the first case, the fish did not leap into Simon’s boat to be taken; nor, in the second case, did they swarm from the sea and lay themselves down upon the blazing coals that they might be prepared for the fisherman’s feast. No, the fishermen must go out in their boat, they must cast the net; and after having cast the net, they must either drag it ashore, or fill both boats with its contents. Everything is done here by human agency. It is a miracle, certainly, but yet neither the fisherman, nor his boat, nor his fishing tackle are ignored: they are all used and all employed. Let us learn that in the saving of souls God worketh by means; that so long an the present economy of grace shall stand, God will be pleased by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Every now and then there creeps up in the Church a sort of striving against God’s ordained instrumentality. God getteth the most glory through the use of instruments.

2. Again, in both our texts there is another truth equally conspicuous, namely, that means of themselves are utterly unavailing. In the first case you hear the confession, “Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing.” In the last case you hear them answer to the question, “Children, have ye any meat?” “No”--a sorrowful No. What was the reason of this? Were they not fishermen plying their special calling? Verily, they were no raw hands; they understood the work. Had they gone about the toil unskilfully? No. Had they lacked industry? No, they had toiled. Had they lacked perseverance? No, they had toiled all the night. Was there a deficiency of fish in the sea? The Great Worker who does not discard the means would still have His people know that He uses instrumentality, not to glorify the instrument, but for the sake of glorifying Himself. He takes weakness into His hands and makes it strong, not that weakness may be worshipped, but that the strength may be adored which even makes weakness subservient to His might.

3. Thirdly, there is clearly taught in both these miracles the fact that it is Christ’s presence that confers success. Christ sat in Peter’s boat.

4. In both instances the success which attended the instrumentality through Christ’s presence developed human weakness. We do not see human weakness more in non-success than in success. In the first instance, in the success you see the weakness of man, for the net breaks and the ships begin to sink, and Simon Peter falls down with--“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” He did not know so much about that till his boat was filled; but the very abundance of God’s mercy made him feel his own nothingness. In the last case, they were scarcely able to draw the net because of the multitude of fishes. Brethren, if you or I would know to the fullest extent what utter nothings we are, if the Lord shall give us success in winning souls we shall soon find it out.

II. THERE ARE ALSO SEVERAL POINTS OF DISSIMILARITY. The first picture represents the Church of God as we see it; the second represents it as it really is. The first pictures to us the visible, the second the invisible. Luke tells us what the crowd see; John tells us what Christ showed to His disciples alone. The first is common truth which the multitude may receive; the next is special mystery revealed only to spiritual minds. Observe, then, carefully, the points of divergence.

1. First, there is a difference in the orders given. In the first, it is, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” In the second it is, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship.” The first is Christ’s order to every minister; the second is the secret work of His Spirit in the word. The first shows us that the ministry is to fish anywhere and everywhere. All the orders that the Christian has, as to his preaching, is, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your net.” He is not to single out any particular character; he is to preach to everybody. The secret truth is, that when we are doing this, the Lord knows how to guide us, so that we “cast the net on the right side of the ship.” That is the secret and invisible work of the

Spirit, whereby He so adapts our ministry, which is in itself general, that He makes it particular and special.

2. In the first instance you will clearly see that there is a distinct plurality. The fishermen have nets--in the plural; they have boats--in the plural. There is plurality of agency employed.

3. Thirdly, there is another difference. In the first case, how many fish were caught? The text says, “a great multitude.” In the second case, a great multitude are taken too, but they are all counted and numbered. “A hundred and fifty and three.” What was Peter’s reason for counting them? We cannot tell. But I think I know why the Lord made him do it. It was to show us that though in the outward instrumentality of gathering the people into the Church the number of the saved is to us a matter of which we know nothing definitely, yet secretly and invisibly the Lord has counted them even to the odd one, He knoweth well how many the gospel net shall bring in. I, as a preacher, have nothing to do with counting fish. My business is with the great multitude. Splash goes the net again! Oh Master I thou who hast taught us to throw the net and bring in a multitude, guide into it the hundred and fifty and three!

4. Yet again, notice another difference. The fish that were taken the first time appear to have been of all sort. The not was broken, and therefore, doubtless some of them got out again; there were some so little that they were not worth eating, and doubtless were thrown away. “They shall gather the good into vessels and throw the bad away.” In the second case, the net was full of great fishes; they were all great fishes, all good for eating, all the one hundred and fifty-three were worth the keeping, there was not one little fellow to be thrown back into the deep again. The first gives us the outward and visible effect of the ministry. We gather into Christ’s Church a great number. And there will always be in that number some that are not good, that are not really called of God. Sometimes we have Church-meetings in which we have to throw the bad away. We have many blissful meetings where it is gathering-in the fish--and what big hauls of fish has God given to us! Glory be to His name l But at other times we have to sit down and tell our fish over, and there are some who must be thrown away; neither God nor man can endure them. Thus is it in the outward and visible Church. Let no man be surprised if the tares grow up with the wheat--it is the order of things, it must be so.

5. Yet again, you notice in the first case the net broke, and in the second case it did not. Now, in the first case, in the visible Church the net breaks.

My brethren are always calling out, “the net is broken 1” No doubt it is a bad thing for nets to break; but you need not wonder at it. We cannot just now, when the net is full, stop to mend it; it will break. It is the necessary consequence of our being what we are that the net will break. There are several other points of difference, but I think we have hardly time to enlarge upon them. I will only hint at them. In the first case, which is the visible Church, you see the human weakness becomes the strongest point; there is the boat ready to sink, there is the net broken, there is the men all out of heart, frightened, amazed, and begging the Master to go away. In the other case it is not so at all. There is human weakness, but still they are made strong enough. They have no strength to spare, as you perceive, but still they are strong enough, the net does not break, the ship goes slowly to land dragging the fish; and then, lastly, Simon Peter pulls the fish to shore. Strong he must have been. They were just strong enough to get their fish to shore. So in the visible Church of Christ you will often have to mourn over human weakness; but in the invisible Church, God will make His servants just strong enough--just strong enough to drag their fish to shore. The agencies, means, instrumentalities, shall have just sufficient force to land every elect soul in heaven, that God may be glorified. Then, notice, in the first case, in the visible Church they launched out into the deep. In the second case, it says they were not far from the shore, but a little way. So to-day our preaching seems to us to be going out into the great stormy deep after fish. We appear to have a long way to reach before we shall bring these precious souls to land. But in the sight of God we are not far from shore; and when a soul is saved, it is not far from heaven. To us there are years of temptation, and trial, and conflict; but to God, the Most High, it is finished--“it is done.” They are saved; they are not far from shore. In the first case, the disciples had to forsake all and follow Christ. In the second, they sat down to feast with Him at the dainty banquet which He had spread. So in the visible Church to-day we have to bear trial and self-denial for Christ, but glory be to God, the eye of faith perceives that we shall soon drag our net to land, and then the Master will say, “ Come and dine”; and we shall sit down and feast in His presence, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God.

III. The time is gone, and I close by NOTICING ONE AMONG MANY LESSONS WHICH THE TWO NARRATIVES IN COMMON SEEM TO TEACH. In the first ease, Christ was in the ship. Oh, blessed be God, Christ is in His Church, though she launch out into the deep. In the second case, Christ was on the shore. Blessed be God, Christ is in heaven. He is not here, but He has risen; He has gone up on high for us. But whether He be in the Church, or whether He be on the shore in heaven, all our night’s toiling shall, by His presence, have a rich reward. That is the lesson. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The disappointing night and the successful morn

I. THE NIGHT OF DISAPPOINTMENT.

1. A most unlikely disappointment.

2. The disappointment of skilled men.

3. A disappointment in spite of devoted labour.

4. This disappointment was most disheartening.

II. THE MORNING OF SUCCESS.

1. It was success that was not very probable. The best time for fishing had gone--the night. Not unfrequently the work of which we have least hope in the end gives us most joy. History of missions, e.g., to South Sea Islands. “In the morning sow thy seed,” &c.

2. It was success through the use of the old means.

3. It was success in the old sphere.

4. It was success realized by the very men who had previously failed.

5. It was success consequent on the Lord’s presence and on a believing obedience to His word.

6. It was success of the most complete character.

7. It was success in the joy and blessing of which others shared. Those in “the other boat” were called upon to help.

8. It was success which had the most gracious results.

The sinking fishing-boat a symbol of the ruinous tendency of abounding prosperity

When is a man most likely to go wrong morally? When he is in suffering? Hardly so. Prosperity puts him to a far severer test. On the ground nobody gets giddy and falls, but on a pinnacle many a one, having lost the steady nerve and firm foothold, has trembled, reeled, and rolled down. How few can bear success t Let a man steal a march on his fellows, outstrip them in the boisterous race for riches, “get on in the world,” as we phrase it, and the chances are that he will deteriorate. Noble exceptions there are to the rule, never more than in our own day. Many rise in character as they rise in circumstances. But, alas I numbers do the exact opposite: as they go up in possessions, they go down in mind, down in heart, down in conscience. Gray, in his charming Elegy, speaks of “chill penury” freezing “the genial current of the soul.” It may do, but the pleasant, soothing zephyr of wealth certainly tends to relax manly vigour and induce baneful lethargy. There are certain fish which flourish best when lowest in the sea; severe pressure is evidently, in some way, adapted to their nature; when raised near the surface they invariably degenerate. It is so, too often, with men; when raised, they descend. Alexander the Great was all right as long as he had to cope with his enemies; difficulty did not daunt but develop him. On he went from strength to strength, carrying everything before him. But the day that saw his final obstacle removed beheld the first step taken in a retrograde direction. Conquest surrounded him with luxuries; all the elaborate appliances of civilization were placed within his reach; he had but to lift his hand, and the prolific, varied resources of distant and neighbouring lands were at his command. The enervating influences of these things were, however, only too speedily manifested. The Macedonian hero dwarfed into the effeminate ben vivant; Spartan simplicity gave way to requirements as multitudinous as they were vicious, and to make his ruin complete, the world’s conqueror died from the effects of a disgraceful drunken brawl! (T. R. Stevenson.)

A new year’, word for business people

“Out of the ship.” The Lord Jesus had been preaching in synagogues; but there were very many outside who wanted to hear Him, and whom He wanted to reach. So He entered into a boat belonging to one of His disciples that was drawn up on the beach, and when it was thrust a little way from the shore He sat down and taught the people.

I. JESUS SEEKS A PULPIT RIGHT IN THE MIDST OF DAILY LIFE. He comes to each of us and asks us to let Him have our daily occupation as His preaching-place.

II. LOOK AT THE BOATS WHICH THE LORD JESUS USES.

1. It was the boat of a disciple. He never thrusts Himself upon any. Can we afford to receive the Lord aboard of our ship?

2. It was the boat of an ardent and loving disciple. How eagerly Simon received Him into the boat!

3. It was the boat of a busy disciple. Hard-working disciples who can toil all night, if need be--their’s is the business from which Christ will preach.

III. LOOK AT THE FISHERMEN. They were washing their nets. The Lord will never help us to catch fish with dirty nets.

IV. Then as to THE SERMON WHICH THE LORD WOULD PREACH from the daily occupation.

1. Considerateness for other people. These men would have to go off again at sunset to fish, and they had toiled all the previous night. But that others might see and hear Jesus, they leave their nets, they thrust out the ship, and they wait upon the Lord. A sermon that was never so much needed as it is to-day.

2. Faithfulness. The crying want of our times is this, that men should see and hear Jesus in the boat of every disciple. Faithfulness on the part of His disciples goes furthest to give men faith in their Lord and Master.

V. Then there are TWO OR THREE OTHER THOUGHTS THAT GROW OUT OF THE INCIDENT.

1. It goes well with the boat when Christ is on board.

2. Notice that while the Lord said “nets” (Luke 5:4), Simon said “net” (Luke 5:5). And he took up the first that came to hand. Ah, Simon, the blessed Master knows more about fishing than you think. And, my brethren, He knows as much about your business as about Simon’s. Their net brake (Luke 5:6), so they needed the nets after all.

3. Think of the fishing-net giving the disciples the most amazing manifestation of Jesus they had seen. Ah, so it is when Jesus is in the business, the common daily work of life shall bring glorious manifestations of the Lord’s presence and power.

4. The fisherman who takes Christ on board is promoted to the rank of an apostle. To serve Jesus in the common round of daily life is the way up to the highest and most splendid service for the King.

5. When Jesus is in the ship everything is in its right place. The cargo is in the hold, not in the heart. Cares and gains, fears and losses, yesterday’s failure and to-day’s success, do not thrust themselves in between us and His presence. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me,” sang the Psalmist. Alas when the goodness and mercy come before us, and our blessings shut Jesus from view I Here is the blessed order--the Lord ever first, I following Him, His goodness and mercy following me. (Mark Guy Pearse.)

Failure, faith, and fortune

I. FAILURE. “Toiled--nothing.” Failure may be caused by

(a) lack of aptitude;

(b) deficiency of energy; or

(c) want of perseverance. Notwithstanding skill, exertion, and persistence, here was failure.

1. The plea of disappointment.

2. That plea urged as a reason for relinquishing toil.

II. FAITH. “Nevertheless, at Thy word,” &c. The fishermen were learning of Christ; their confidence and hope were growing. They had Christ’s word to rely on, and have not we?

1. Faith in exercise.

2. A right resolve taken.

3. A new venture made.

III. FORTUNE.

1. Unexpected abundance.

2. An act of kindness compensated.

3. Plenty the reward of obedience.

4. Success the providence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

IV. Note THE RESULTS OR THE MIRACLE.

1. The perception of Christ’s glory.

2. Christ’s majesty producing, humility.

3. A new vocation indicated.

4. Abandonment of all for Christ’s service. (M. Braithwaite.)

The three F’s--a parable of fishing

1. Through a long weary night four men sat in their boats on the Sea of Galilee. They are not novices in the art of fishing, but old experienced hands. They do not idle away their time. They toil hard. They toil hard--dropping their nets and drawing them up again, empty. The story of that vexatious night of disappointment is told, next day, by one of their number in this one sentence, “Master, we have toiled,” &c. It could all have been compressed into the one sad word, FAILURE. And this is the word which many pastors and Christian workers may feel themselves obliged to write underneath many of their undertakings and efforts. But God holds us responsible only for duties, never for results. Not by human might, or power, but by His Spirit, is success to be reached. A Paul may plant, or a Peter may fish, but God only can give the increase.

2. Now let us turn over the leaf, and begin Chapter II. It is no longer midnight, but morning. The early sun sparkles on the blue waves of Gennesareth. Two fishermen are on the beach, washing their nets; two others, John and James, are mending theirs in a boat. Jesus comes in sight, followed by a jostling crowd. He wants elbow-room, and space to address the throng, and so He calls for Peter’s boat and makes it His floating pulpit. As soon as His discourse is over, He begins to think of His hungry and disappointed disciples. So He gives the order to Simon. There was a great deal of human nature in Peter. He felt just as you and I have felt a hundred times. He said, “We have been toiling all night, and have taken nothing.” Had he stopped short right there he would have got a rebuke for the shameful sin of giving up. He was despondent over the past; but he was not despairing for the future. So out bolts that ringing reply, “Nevertheless,” &c. Noble words! There spake out a resolute and a relying FAITH. Faith set the bow of Peter’s little smack right towards the deep water, and then laid hold of the oar. This is precisely the same thing which we pastors, and Sunday-school teachers, and parents must do straightway. Invite Jesus into our undertakings, for we cannot fail if He is with us in the boat. Then let us pull out into the deep water of thorough, conscientious, faithful work. The fish are in the deep water, not near the shore.

3. What will be the result sooner or later? Look at those disciples in the boat and you will see. They have lowered their net, just as Jesus told them to do. Lo, a multitude of fishes swarming in! The net is breaking. Peter signals to John to bring his boat alongside and help to save the prodigious haul. Up comes the other smack. The two vessels are soon so overloaded that they begin to sink; and Peter throws himself down in awe-struck wonder, and cries out that he is unworthy of such a miraculous blessing. That was Peter’s way of saying just what we pastors have often said when the revival was glorious, and we felt how much more God had done for us than we deserved. How sweet was Christ’s answer! “Follow Me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” And so the loaded boats are pulled ashore, and the happy day’s work ends in a FULNESS of blessings. Here are the three F’s. The first is a sad one, and teaches us that when we rely upon an arm of flesh our hardest toils may end in Failure. The second is the watchword of all wise action, and all holy endeavour--it is the golden word Faith. And when we take Jesus with us in obedient trust, we bring back a Fulness of success. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)

This paragraph

1. Illustrates Christ’s indirect method of working. He often gives commands, the exact bearing of which it is difficult or impossible to see.

2. Illustrates the proper treatment of the Divine word on the part of man.

3. Shows the proper effect of God’s rule over inferior things. There is enough in any display of Divine power to humble us, if we did but open our eyes to see the way of the Most High.

4. Illustrates the ever-heightening and ever-widening vocation of mankind.

Master Himself.

5. Shows that Jesus Christ does not put men into the ministry simply because they are unfortunate in secular concerns. Peter had caught nothing all night, and in the morning he was turned into a minister! Do not people plan to put their least gifted and least successful children into the Church? It is sometimes said that they do. Christ seemed to say to Peter, “See, there are fish enough yet in the water; but you leave your occupation at the very moment of your highest success. I don’t make a minister of you because there is no other way in which you can make a morsel of bread, but for infinitely higher reasons.” So to-day there are men in the ministry who could have caught fish enough and been highly successful in the ordinary work of life. Give them credit for good motives. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Christ the Lord of nature

We must not minimize this miracle by deeming that Christ, either by marvellous sagacity or superhuman omniscience, knew of the presence of this great shoal at that time and spot. Rather, we must not only see in Jesus “ the Lord of nature, able, by the secret yet mighty magic of His will, to guide and draw the unconscious creatures, and make them minister to the higher interests of His kingdom”; but we must also recognize in Him the second Adam exercising that dominion over the fish of the sea, which was part of the grant of empire given originally to man. That there should be this great herd of fish was not in itself miraculous; what was miraculous was that its appearance should be thus timed, that it should coincide with Christ’s word and subserve His purpose. (W. J. Deane, M. A.)

Reasons for the miracle

Various reasons have been offered for the special applicability of this miracle.

1. Thus was Peter repaid for the loan of his boat, even as the widow of Sarepta was rewarded for her charity to Elijah by the unfailing resources of the barrel of meal and the cruise of oil; as the Shunamite hostess was requited for her kindness to Elisha by the restoration of her son to life; as the house of Obed-Edom was blessed when it gave shelter to the ark of the Lord; as Christ Himself testified that a cup of cold water given to one of His disciples should not lose its reward.

2. Also, Jesus was thus preparing His apostles for their coming call; they might see that in casting in their lot with Him and in abandoning their gainful trade, they were entering the service of One who was able to provide for their bodily life as well as for the wants of their soul; One who taught them that “godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come.”

3. Still more might Simon see herein a prophecy of the future, an adumbration of the success that awaited the preachers of the gospel, as they in obedience to the word of Christ cast their nets into the sea of the world.

4. Here, too, is a lesson for all; how little we can do by our own skill or wisdom, how much when we take Christ with us in our work. His Word teaches us how, and where, and when to labour, and following that Divine Teacher we are sure of success. (W. J. Deane, M. A.)

A broken net

“The net brake.” That net is the Church; and the history of the Church is, alas I a history of the tearing of its meshes, and the breaking away of its fish. Heresy and schism have troubled the Church from the apostolic period; and Christ in this miracle showed that it would be so, lest we should be discouraged; but He also showed the remedy for it--a remedy we have not sufficiently taken to heart. When the net wastorn, then Peter beckoned to his partners to help to receive the draught. And by this we are shown that the true remedy for heresy and schism is unity. Sad it is that there should be so much separation among the Apostolic Churches; that the Eastern Church, and the Church which claims to be founded by St. Peter, and our own English Church, should all be engaged in fishing on our own several accounts, with mangled nets, from which many escape, and in which only few are saved. When the Churches recognize the real cause of their failure, repent of their haughty and narrow isolation, and draw together, and call to each other to help, then, and then only, will they be filled to the bulwarks, so that they seem almost about to sink. (S. Baring-Gould, M. A.)

Use of partners

There cannot be a better improvement of society than to help us in gain, to relieve us in our profitable labours, to draw up the spiritual draught into the vessel of Christ and His Church. Wherefore hath God given us partners, but that we should beckon to them for their aid in our necessary occasions? Neither doth Simon slacken his hand, because he had assistants. What shall we say to those lazy fishers, who can see others to the drag, while themselves look on at ease, caring only to feed themselves with the fish, not willing to wet their hands with the net? what shall we say to this excess of gain? (Bishop Hall.)


Verse 8

Luke 5:8

When Simon Peter saw it he fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me

What it was that Peter saw

To understand the action and the words of Simon Peter, we must know what it was that he saw.
The place was the shore of the Lake of Galilee, and the time was early in the first year of the ministry of Christ. Already men were talking of the great prophet, and wondering who and what He was; and no doubt the fishermen had thought and spoken much of Him. One day Christ came; He went straight to Simon’s ship, and from it He taught the people, while Simon Peter listened. And then followed that great wonder of the miraculous draught of fishes, which astounded all beholders. That was what Peter saw. But he saw more; he saw in all this what was like a call to him; not yet a direct one, but one which he could not help but understand. When you see a grand action, it is a call to you to imitate it; when you hear of a noble deed, it is a call to you to correct whatever of littleness or meanness may be in your own soul; when you see others walking with God, it is a call to you to join them, and to walk even as they. Sympathetic natures need no explanation at such times; they take in at once the meaning of the voices which they hear as they go on through life. Simon Peter felt what he saw; he felt how it bore on him; and feeling it, instantly and profoundly, his first motion was to draw back in alarm, and to pray the Lord to depart from him
. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)

Two kinds of shrinking from Christ

Does this remind you of another scene? It must, if you are thoughtful, and accustomed to interpret scripture by scripture. It was the very thing that the Gadarenes and Gergesenes did, when Christ revealed Himself to them in His holiness, and manifested forth His glory. Compare the narratives; they run almost exactly parallel. The place was the same--the Lake of Gennesaret or its immediate shores. The main personage in each scene is the same--Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God. The state of preparation in human minds is the same--the Gadarenes had heard of Christ, and so had Peter. The time was the same--just after a startling miracle. The act in each case was the same, nay the very words are the same; the people of Gadara prayed Him that He would depart out of their coasts; and Simon Peter cried, “Depart from me, O Lord.” But yet, notwithstanding all these correspondences, in time, in place, in deed, in result, in word, there was a difference which outweighs all agreement. Not farther asunder are the poles of this globe, not wider apart are east and west, than were the spirit of the men of Gadara and the soul of Simon Peter. Nor could the final results have been more diverse. The men of Gadara never saw Christ again; Peter never left Him. They kept all they had, and lost the Lord; he kept the Lord, and lost all else. And then the histories diverge, as streams part, never again to be united, but to flow farther and farther away from each other. On the one hand a low, material, worldly life drags sluggishly forward, passing into darkness and silence, and descending into shame and everlasting contempt: while the other, fixed on Jesus, and developed in Him, groweth more and more unto the perfect day; the name becomes an immortal name, the man is numbered with the saints in glory everlasting, and the very record of his life tells with tremendous moral force, even down to this far-off day, and here in this remote land, and is helpful, and precious, and stands like a tower of strength amidst the waves of this troublesome world. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)

Peter’s cry of despairing love

The feeling of St. Peter, as he uttered this cry, is not unmixed with sensations of reverence and love. True, it contains within it elements of terror; it is not the language of that perfect love which casts out fear; it is lower than the awe which inspires angels and just men made perfect as they are conscious of the imperfections and limitations of creaturely existence in the presence of the great Alpha and Omega of all creation. But it is the cry of despairing love, not of despairing hate; the cry of one who yearns after an unattainable height, not of one who is content to wallow in the mire of his sins.

I. Undoubtedly it was the effect of FEAR PRODUCED BY A SENSE OF SIN. The consciousness of standing before a Being of infinite holiness produces in sinful man a thrill of moral agony; the force of contrast brings into strong relief the hideous, intolerable deformity of sin; in the light of that presence sin becomes exceeding sinful, and the yawning depths of iniquity which lie hid in man’s nature are no longer veiled by the mists of custom and long habit. Man for the most part is unconscious of the real foulness of his sin; the moral atmosphere around him is charged therewith; he imbibes its taint at every breath; the world around him is penetrated with it; it enters into him at every pore, it suffuses itself more or less over his whole nature. Hence arises the further realization of sin which results from growth in holiness, the explanation of the seeming difficulty that the saintliest of mankind confess themselves the greatest sinners. Men living at a distance from God are actually without any standard by which to measure their deflection from the Divine law. Only when a man begins to ascend the hill of God, to make his way out of the foul miasma amid which he has been living and moving, can he in any measure discover the real proportions of things, or bring home to his heart the miserable and loathsome forms of evil by which he has been hitherto surrounded.

II. St. Peter’s words seem to arise out of some feeling of REPUGNANCE BETWEEN HIS HUMAN WILL AND THE WILL OF AN ALL-HOLY GOD. There is, alas l even in regenerate nature, a certain amount of antagonism towards the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. We can none of us be brought into the immediate presence of God without being conscious of the claim which is made upon us thereby of striving after a more complete renunciation of our own lusts and desires, a more entire conformity to that likeness which we instinctlively feel to be the law and pattern of redeemed humanity. At this, man’s nature rebels.

III. These words seem to spring also from a REVERENT HUMILITY. An intensified form of the centurion’s faithful saying (Matthew 8:8). St. Peter had been treating our Blessed Lord too much as a mere man; he had been mingling familiarly in His company, listening to Him as a mere human teacher; and now the consciousness lights up within him that God was in that place and he knew it not--that he had been standing at the very gate of heaven. CONCLUSION: Wounded with a sense of exceeding sinfulness, or conscious of a will struggling against the Divine purpose, or penetrated with a feeling of unworthiness, you may be ready to exclaim, “Depart from me,” &c. Yet in that cry is the earnest of your acceptance, not of your rejection. In that cry lies a sure augury of future success. It is the first step towards penitence, self-examination, confession, and God’s absolving word. (S. W. Skeffington, M. A.)

Peter’s confession of sin

Observe well what it was which led to this conviction of guilt in Peter’s soul. Not terror, or judgment; not any view of the anger and justice of the Being with whom he had to do. It was simply the reception and consciousness of a very great and exceeding kindness. This made him love what he admired; and the love and the admiration which he felt to God became, by an easy change, hatred and detestation against himself. He was softened at the moment that he was convinced; and upon his melted heart and conscience he wrote the large, deep characters of sin,

1. The greatest and surest test of every man’s state before God is this--How does he feel toward sin? It is a great thing to have faith enough to see the requirements of a holy God; faith enough to be conscious that there is a distance; faith enough to fear.

2. There is no feeling in Peter’s breast akin to the desire to get rid of his religious thought. He was asking rather that which he thought he ought to ask, than what he wanted to ask. The humility was real; but it was not enlightened. It was exactly what every man ought to say and feel, if he saw only his own breast, and did not see the bosom of God.

3. This feeling operates differently, according to the moral temperament, or according to the stage in which a man may happen to stand in the Divine life.

4. It is an unspeakable comfort to know that this awful prayer, which Peter made in ignorance, was not answered. Christ did not depart from him. Thank God, He knows when to refuse a prayer. He never leaves those who are only ignorant. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The sense of sin in the Saviour’s presence

Such has ever been the effect of God’s presence felt and realized by a human soul. Even the sinless angels veil their faces, and worship with an awful reverence before the throne on high; how much less can man’s nature, penetrated with the mystery of sin, endure without agony the blinding light and holiness of God! Thus Adam and his wife, in the first moments of self-conscious guilt, hid themselves among the trees of the garden from the presence of the Lord God; the people of Israel trembled at the foot of Sinai, and entreated to hear the voice of God no more; Manoah fears death as the consequence of the vision of God; the blameless Daniel falls prostrate and weakened before the great Angel of the Covenant; Isaiah is oppressed with a painful sense of guilt after witnessing the adoration of the Eternal. And even when God Incarnate on earth had concealed beneath the tabernacle of our humanity the rays of His Divine glory, and talked with man face to face, yet there were moments when the glory of the Divine nature flashed forth from behind the thin veil of flesh, and confounded the awe-struck senses of the beholders. There were moments at which even His enemies were driven back, and fell before His presence; and many more occasions on which the hearts of apostles and friends failed them for fear when they felt that God was, indeed, in the midst of them. (S. W. Skeffington, M. A.)

The terror of the law

This is a cry which has a long story behind it. It carries us far back as we trace it step by step along the pages of the Old Testament. St. Peter is testifying to his hold on the significance of the law. His words carry us back to the voice of Adam as he saw God draw near in the evening amid the pleasant garden, and he knew the chill of a terrible fear and hid himself among the trees. Ever since that dismal day there had been in man a blind terror lest his Father should come too near him. This is the terror which passes like a shudder through primitive faiths, and turns savage religions into acts of alarm, into rituals of panic. Men are nervous, discomfited, when their God is near; and the very cruelties of these savage faiths are cruelties of fear. They know not the secret of their dread; they cannot syllable the confession, “I am a sinful man.” They only know the fear, and passionately, and at any cost, beseech God to depart out of their coasts. This is the terror which is at work to purge witchcraft. Jacob fleeing from his home, when he awakes at Bethel, exclaims, “How dreadful is this place; this is none other but the house of God.” It is the terror, this terror with its deep ground-tone, which meets us, in its simplest and most natural fashion, in Manoah, when the vision of the angel did wondrously and vanished, and he cried to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God.” And we know its utterance, its stormy utterance, in the mouths of Israel, at the foot of Sinai, as they cried to Moses, not “Bring us near to God,” but “ Set bounds lest He break forth upon us. Why should we die? If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die.” (Canon Scott Holland.)

The nearer to God, the sharper the anguish

It is not the gross and carnal only, or the ignorant, who know this start, this touch of shame. The cry breaks from the lips of the purest and the highest; and it breaks from them with intenser violence, and with more startling passion. The nearer to God, the sharper the anguish, and the more vehement the protestation, “Depart from me.” It is Job, with his whole heart aflame with righteousness, after a life which--as it lay there under his human review--looked so fair and high and blameless; it is he who is stricken with theancient fear as he sees God with the seeing of the eye, and thus abhors himself. And it is Isaiah, the evangelical prophet, who crowds into hot words the fullest passion of the old cry (Isaiah 6:1-5). So has it ever been, until the last word of the last prophet is there to tell us how he wondered lest He, for whom they had all, one after another, so ardently waited, should consume them by His very coming: “Who shall abide the day of His coming? Who shall stand when He appeareth? for He is like a refiner’s fire.” (Canon Scott Holland.)

Peter’s surprise and fear

It was not at all surprising to him that Jesus should draw very near, and should ask for his boat, and with him launch out. He was not alarmed or disturbed at such an invitation; rather, everything in it to him was most natural and most habitual. There seemed nothing to herald a spiritual crisis; it is the old task of the fisherman to which he is used, the task familiar to him all his days. From earliest childhood he had lived with the nets and the boats on the edge of those home waters. It is the old art that would be his surely till death should lay him to sleep, or till be became too old to do more than watch the younger men take his place in the old haunts. Everything stood for him that morning as it had ever been; nothing seemed ready for any great shock or surprise. No word of expectancy gathered over that sleeping scene. There lay the broad waters as they had lain a thousand times before under his eyes; there stood the hills, quiet and ancient and unmoved; and the same sky bent over him as had ever bent over him, familiar and dear; and the same shores spread away with the old curves and creeks and headlands, and villages greeting him with all that motionless image of home. What symptom was there of that coming joy? How should he expect anything at all? He was too weary to expect much, for he had toiled long and taken nothing. It was but in a dull, passive acquiescence that he pushed out his boat. Aimless and dispirited as he was how could he guess that it was to be the very last time that he would ever be as he had always been, the very last time that he would sit there on the shore mending his nets. Suddenly, like a flash of lightning, the moment is upon him; there is a start, a wonder, as the fish swarm into the net. What is it, this strange draught? What is it but a stroke of luck? Nay, a finger is upon him, admonitory and masterful, a thrill shoots through him, and he tingles as with a touch of flame. He turns to look at Him who sits there close by him in the boat. Who is He, and what? So quiet He seems, so human, so near, so serene; yet an awe has fallen upon Peter, and a terror shakes him. Very near and very intimate the Master is, and yet how is it that behind these steady human eyes there grows a terror--a terror as of the fires of Sinai or the thunderings of Horeb? How is it that within that quiet, gentle voice of His, there seems to be ringing the sound of that trumpet that grows louder and louder, until Israel fell on their faces afraid? The Master sits as He had always sat, and looked as He had always looked; and yet this tremor, this dread, as of a guilty thing surprised! It is the old-world fear, it is the ancient dismay that has fallen upon him, such as fell upon Isaiah when he saw the Lord high and lifted up between the cherubim. He cannot be mistaken; his true and pure spirit reads off the secret at a glance and at a flash. How, he knows not; but it is God upon whom He is looking. He is sure of it. He is seeing God, and therefore he cannot endure it; God very near; he sees Him with the seeing of an eye, as Job of old, and therefore he abhors himself in dust and ashes. (Canon Scott Holland.)

The awakening of St. Peter

After his first interview with Christ, Peter went home to his daily work. The words Christ had spoken to him were allowed to sink deep into his heart. There was a pause in life before the next impression was made upon him. For the first time in his life the unlearned fisherman had been recognized by one greater than himself. We may imagine in some degree what were his thoughts as he lay at night within his boat, rocked on the indolent surge of the lake, letting his thoughts wander with his eyes among the stars, and hearing nothing but the cry of the wild fowl on the lake, and the rustle of the oleander on the shore: “Shall I meet Jesus once again, or will He forget me in the greatness of His work?” And one fair morning, as he sat on the glittering beach of shells, mending his nets, his desire was answered. By all that Peter had gone through there had been kindled in his soul the first sparks of love to Christ, fitly mingled with veneration. But as yet there had been no spiritual element connected with them, and Christ’s object was to awaken more than friendship. Peter loved, reverenced, believed; but he had not linked his love and reverence and faith to any profound feeling such as knits the forgiven sinner to a forgiving Father. And it is in what now took place, in the awakening of the slumbering forces of the spirit, that Peter was lifted into another and a higher, though a more sorrowful and more tempted life. Peter’s expression of his emotion reveals one of those states of mingled feelings which seem too strange to be understood, but which we feel to be true to our human nature. It was a mixture of repulsion and attraction, of fear that repelled, of love that drew. “Depart from me,” &c., that was the cry of his lips, and it rose half out of fear at the revelation of holiness, half out of shame at the revelation of his own sinfulness. But with this was something more. His fear and shame sprang out of his lower self; but he could not remain in fear or shame with that wonderful and tender face looking down upon him, as he knelt among the nets. His higher being rose in passion to meet the encouragement of Christ. That which was akin to Christ in him saw and recognized with joy--joy that took then the garments of a noble sorrow, the beauty of holiness in Christ; remembered that this holiness had come to meet him, sought him out and loved him--and at the thought, all his nobler nature darted forward with a cry, repelled the lower that would have exiled Christ through fear, and threw him down, forgetting all else in utter love and broken-hearted humbleness, at the feet of Christ. “Depart from me--no, never, my Lord and Master, never leave me. There, in Thy holiness, can I alone find rest; in being with Thee always alone salvation from my wrong-doing; in loving Thee with all my heart alone the strength I need to conquer fear, and passionate impulse, and weakness in the hour of trial.” Yes, that is the great step which takes us over the threshold into the temple of a spiritual life with God. And the life which succeeds that revelation of holiness and sin is no life of mere feeling. “Follow Me,” said Christ, “and I will make you a fisher of men”; and Peter left all and followed Him. This part of the story does not tell us to throw aside our daily work, unless it should happen that we have a special apostolic call; but it does tell us to change our motives, our ideas, our aims: to live the life of Christ, the life that gives up life to others. (Stopford A. Brooke, M. A )

Conviction of sin in the mind of Peter

We have here a specimen of the Redeemer’s method of teaching. He taught by actions. His miracles had a voice. The advantage of this symbolic teaching twofold:

1. It was a living thing.

2. It saves us from dead dogmas. Our thoughts branch off into two divisions.

I. THE MEANING AND OBJECT OF THE MIRACLE. More than all others it taught God’s personality. The meaning and intention of every miracle is to break through the tyranny of the words “law” and “Nature.”

II. THE EFFECTS PRODUCED ON PETER’S MIND. The sense of personal sin.

1. When we come to look at the cause of this we see that the impression was

(a) partly owing to the apostle’s Jewish education. The Jews always recognized the personality, of God, therefore this only awoke what was acknowledged before;

(b) partly also it was produced by the pure presence of Jesus Christ. Wherever the Redeemer went, He elicited a strange sense of sin. And this is not the case only in our Redeemer’s personal ministry, but it is so wherever Christianity is preached.

2. The nature of this conviction of sin in Peter’s bosom. There is a remorse which is felt for crime, but this was not Peter’s case. The language of holy men when they speak of sin is startling. In order to understand it, and to comprehend Peter’s conviction of guilt, we must look at the three principles which guide the life of three different classes of men.

(a) Obedience to the opinion of the world;

(b) The standard of a man’s own opinion;

(c) The light of the life of God.

The first of these makes the man of honour; the second, the man of virtue; the third, the man of saintliness. Up to this time Peter had lived an upright man, full of self-reliance; from this time he began to walk lowly and learnt self-forgetfulness. This is the way in which Christ produces conviction of sin--by placing before us infinite love, infinite loving-kindness, and a perfect humanity. We fall in the dust before this, and say, “We are sinful men, O Lord.” We are sinners, we have erred exceedingly, and we have seen the infinite charity of God stream forth in the majesty of Jesus Christ. It is possible for us to bear the splendour of that presence only when love has taken the place of fear, and we feel that we need fear nothing, neither death nor hell nor men. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Humility

Few stories in the New Testament are as well known as this. Few go home more deeply to the heart of man. Most simple, most graceful is the story, and yet it has in it depths unfathomable. Great painters have loved to draw, great poets have loved to sing, that scene on the Lake of Gennesaret. The clear blue water, land-locked with mountains; the meadows on the shore, gay with their lilies of the field; the rich gardens, olive-yards, and vineyards on the slopes; the towns and villas scattered along the shore, all of bright white lime-stone gay in the sun; the crowds of boats, fishing continually for the fish which swarm to this day in the lake; everywhere beautiful country life, busy and gay, healthy and civilized--and in the midst of it, the Maker of all heaven and earth sitting in a poor fisher’s boat, and condescending to tell them where the shoal of fish was lying. It is a wonderful scene. Let us thank God that it happened once on earth. Though our God and Saviour no longer walks this earth in human form, He is near us now and here. There is in us the same heart as there was in St. Peter for evil and for good. When he found suddenly that it was the Lord who was in his boat, his first feeling was one of fear. Do we never feel the thought of God’s presence a burden? God grant to us all, that after that first feeling of dread and awe is over, we may go on, as Peter did, to the better feelings of admiration, loyalty, worship; and say at last, as Peter said afterwards, “Lord, to whom shall we go? for Thou hast the words of eternal life”

But do I blame St. Peter for saying, “Depart from me,” &c. Who am I, to blame St. Peter? Especially when even the Lord Jesus did not blame him, but only bade him not to be afraid. And why did the Lord not blame him, even when he asked Him to go away? Because St. Peter was honest. He said frankly and naturally what was in his heart. He spoke not from dislike of our Lord, but from modesty; from a feeling of awe, of uneasiness, of dread, at the presence of One who was infinitely greater, wiser, better than himself. And that feeling of reverence and honesty is a Divine and noble feeling--the beginning of all goodness. Peter felt unworthy to be in such good company. He felt unworthy--he, the ignorant fisher-man--to have such a guest in his poor boat. “Go elsewhere, Lord,” he tried to say, “to a place and to companions more fit for Thee. I am ashamed to stand in Thy presence. I am dazzled by the brightness of Thy countenance, crushed down by the thought of Thy wisdom and power, uneasy lest I say or do something unfit for Thee; Thou knowest not what a poor miserable creature I am at heart--Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” There spake out the truly noble soul, who was ready the next moment, as soon as he had recovered himself, to leave all and follow Christ; who was ready afterwards to wander, to suffer, to die upon the cross for his Lord; and who, when he was led out to, execution asked (it is said) to be crucified with his head downwards, seeing that it was too much honour for him to die looking to heaven, as his Lord had died. Do you not understand me yet? Then think what you would have thought of Peter, if, instead of saying what he did, he had said, “ Stay with me, for I am a holy man, O Lord. I am just the sort of person who deserves the honour of Thy company; and my boat, poor though it is, more fit for Thee than the palace of a king.” (Charles Kingsley.)

The sense of sin evoked by Christ and Christianity

When Simeon, on the verge of life, uttered his parting hymn within the Temple, he told Mary, with the infant Jesus in his arms, that, by that child, “the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed.” Never was prophecy more true; nor ever perhaps the mission of our religion more faithfully defined. For wherever it has spread, it has operated like a new and Diviner conscience to the world; imparting to the human mind a profounder insight into itself; opening to its consciousness fresh powers and better aspirations; and penetrating it with a sense of imperfection, a concern for the moral frailties of the will, characteristic of no earlier age. The spirit of religious penitence, the solemn confession of unfaithfulness, the prayer for mercy, are the growth of our nature trained in the school of Christ. The pure image of His mind, as it has passed from land to land, has taught men more of their own hearts than all the ancient aphorisms of self-knowledge, has inspired more sadness at the evil, more noble help for the good that is hidden there; and has placed within reach of even the ignorant, the neglected, and the young, severer principles of self-scrutiny than philosophy had ever attained. The radiance of so great a sanctity has deepened the shades of conscious sin. The savage convert who before knew nothing more sacred than revenge and war, is brought to Jesus, and, as he listens to that voice, feels the stain of blood growing distinct upon his soul. The voluptuary, never before disturbed from his self-indulgence, comes within the atmosphere of Christ’s spirit; and it is as if a gale of heaven fanned his fevered brow, and convinced him that he is not in health. The ambitious priest, revolving plans for using men’s passions as tools of his aggrandisements, starts to find himself the disciple of One who, when the people would have made Him King, fled direct to solitude and prayer. The froward child blushes to think how little there is in him of the infant meekness which Jesus praised; and feels that, had he been there, he must have missed the benediction, or more bitter still, have wept to know it misapplied. Nay, so deep and solemn did the sense of guilt become under the influence of Christian thoughts, that at length the overburdened heart of fervent times could endure the weight no longer; the Confessional arose, and it became the chief object of the widest sacerdotal order which the world has ever seen, to soothe the sobs, and listen to the whispered record of human penitence. Everywhere the Christian mind proclaims its need of mercy, and bends beneath the oppression of its guilt; and since Jesus began to “reveal the thoughts of many hearts,” Christendom, with clasped hands, has fallen at His feet and cried, “We are sinful men, O Lord.” In nurturing this sentiment, in producing this solemn estimate of moral evil and quick perception of its existence, the religion of Christ does blot perpetuate the influence of His personal ministry. (J. Martineau, LL. D.)

Illumination

A flash of supernatural illumination had revealed to him both his own sinful unworthiness and who He was who was with him in the boat. It was the cry of self-loathing which had already realized something nobler. It was the first impulse of fear and amazement, before they had had time to grow into adoration and love. St. Peter did not mean the “Depart from me”; he only meant--and this was known to the Searcher of hearts--“I am utterly unworthy to be near Thee, yet let me stay.” How unlikewas this cry of his passionate and trembling humility to the bestial ravings of the unclean spirits, who bade the Lord to let them alone; or to the hardened degradation of the filthy Gadarenes, who preferred to the presence of their Saviour the tending of their swine! (Archdeacon Farrar.)

Self-loathing in view of infinite purity

We read in profane history of an old woman who fell mad on seeing her deformity in a looking-glass. There is enough in the view which the mirror of the Word gives us of our individual character, if not to drive us to derangement and despair, to prostrate us in the dust of self-abasement and self-abhorrence; and still more affecting and overpowering does this view of ourselves become in the presence of the Infinite Purity.

The impression made by Christ’s holiness

I. In the first place, A VIEW OF THE CHARACTER OF JESUS CHRIST AWAKENS THE FEELING OF SINFULNESS. It is absolutely perfect. The character of Jesus is fathomless; and what has been remarked of Christianity by one of the early Roman bishops, may with equal truth be said of the character of its Author: “It is like the firmament; the more diligently you search it, the more stars will you discover. It is like the ocean; the longer you regard it, the more immeasurable will it appear to you.” When the characteristic qualities of Christ are distinctly beheld in their holy and spotless beauty by a sinful man, the contrast is felt immediately. The instant that his eye rests upon the sinlessness of Jesus, it turns involuntarily to the sinfulness of himself. He realizes that he is a different man from “the man Christ Jesus;” and that except so far as he is changed by Divine grace, there can he no sympathy and union with Him. This is a proper and blessed mood for an imperfectly sanctified Christian. It corresponds with the facts of the case. How can pride, the essence of sin, dwell in such a spirit? It is excluded.

II. INTIMATELY CONNECTED, IN THE SECOND PLACE, WITH A VIEW OF CHRIST’S CHARACTER, IS THAT OF CHRIST’S DAILY LIFE. When this with its train of holy actions passes before the mind of the believer, it produces a deep sense of indwelling sin. This sense of sin as related to justice should hold a prominent place in the Christian experience; and in proportion as it is first vividly elicited by the operation of the law, and then is completely pacified by a view of Christ as suffering “the just for the unjust,” will be the depth of our love towards Him, and the simplicity and entireness of our trust in Him. Those who, like Paul and Luther, have had the clearest perception of the iniquity of sin, and of their own criminality before God, have had the most luminous and constraining view of Christ as the” Lamb of God.”

III. Having thus directed attention to the fact that there is such a distinct feeling as guilt, we remark, in the third place, THAT THE CONTEMPLATION OF THE SUFFERINGS AND DEATH OF CHRIST BOTH ELICITS AND PACIFIES IT, IN THE BELIEVER. Whoever beholds human transgression in the light of the Cross, has no doubts as to the nature and character of the Being nailed to it; and he has no doubts as to his own nature and character. The distinct and intelligent feeling of culpability forbids that he should omit to look at sin in its penal relations, and enables him to understand these relations. The vicarious atonement of Christ is well comprehended because it is precisely what the guilt-smitten conscience craves in its restlessness and anguish. The believer now has wants which are met in this sacrifice. His moral feelings are all awake, and the fundamental feeling of guilt pervades and tinges them all; until in genuine contrition, he holds up the Lamb of God in his prayer for mercy, and cries out to the Just One: “This oblation which Thou Thyself hast provided is my propitiation; this atones for my sin.” Then the expiating blood is applied by the Holy Ghost, and the conscience is filled with the peace of God that passeth all understanding. “Then,” to use the language of Leighton, “the conscience makes answer to God: ‘Lord, I have found that there is no standing in the judgment before Thee, for the soul in itself is overwhelmed with a world of guiltiness; but I find a blood sprinkled upon it that hath, I am sure, virtue enough to purge it all away, and to present it pure unto Thee. And I know that wheresoever Thou findest that blood sprinkled, Thine anger is quenched and appeased immediately upon the sight of it. Thine hand cannot smite when that blood is before thine eye.’” We have thus considered the effect, in awakening a sense of sin, produced by a clear view of the character, life, and death of Christ. But how dim and indistinct is our vision of all this! It should be one of our most distinct and earnest aims, to set a crucified Redeemer visibly before our eyes, (W. G. T. Shedd, D. D.)

Peter’s confession

I. Remark his CONFESSIONS “I am a sinful man.”

II. His PETITION--“Depart from me, O Lord!” The following things seem to be implied.

1. Great fear and distress. Few, unless they have been in something of the same situation, can guess at the various agitations of Peter’s mind. What a sense he now had of his own vileness, and what views of the excellency of Christ I Rebecca alighted from her camel when she saw Isaac, and prostrated herself before him: and whatever opinion we may have entertained of ourselves before, sure I am, that we shall be sensible of our own nothingness when we view ourselves in the light of the Divine perfections.

2. It implies modesty and diffidence, which kept him at a distance from Him who not only admits, but invites to the greatest nearness. Peter felt on this occasion somewhat like the centurion, when he said, “I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof.”

3. This request bespeak a rashness and inconsideration, much remaining darkness and ignorance. That might be applied to Peter here, which is said of him in another place: “He wist not what to say, for he was sore afraid.” (B. Beddome, M. A)

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Let us consider, with reference to this subject--

I. The truth of Peter’s confession.

II. The unreasonableness of his petition. That Peter was a sinful man, who can possibly doubt? He was the child of Adam, inheriting his corrupt nature; and it must therefore needs be that he was a sinner before God. With some, the alarms of conscience are soon appeased; such heavings of the soul within are lulled speedily to rest. Some endeavour to quiet them by sedatives, or soothing applications, altogether inadmissible. “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Such are the gracious purposes of God towards us. To depart from Him, because we are sinners, would be to reverse the order of Heaven’s law and appointment. What is it, however, which will cause God to depart from us, or ourselves to desire that He should do so? Every kind and form of wilful and habitual sin; all unfaithfulness to God. (H. J. Hastings, M. A.)


Verse 10

Luke 5:10

Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men

Fishing for men

To be good fishermen we must be--

I.
ARDENTLY ENAMOURED OF THE FISHING.

II. INTIMATELY ACQUAINTED WITH THE FISHES. In following the analogy, we may observe that, because of his acquaintance with the fishes, the fisherman knows--

1. Where to fish. A novice would throw in his line anywhere; but not so the fisherman. Fishes of various sorts must be sought in various localities, and in some places you may seek in vain for any. Many a man has “toiled all the night and has taken nothing,” simply because he has been trying in the wrong place; while others round about him have “made a good tide.” For one sort he may go to the quiet lake and the gentle stream; for another to the open sea or the deep channel; while for others he has to go out into the great wide ocean. And in our spiritual fishing we must learn where to catch men. We may find opportunities in the quiet lakes of our own domestic circles, or in the pleasant streams of our social friendships. Because of his acquaintance with the fishes, the fisherman also knows--

2. How to fish. Like men, fishes differ very much in their dispositions and habits, so that what would be suitable for catching one class would not be successful with another. For instance: While some must be drawn, others must be driven. I have seen fishermen, after casting their net, row round about it, making as much noise as possible with their oars, in order to frighten the fishes into it; while, in other instances, a bright light has been burned in the boat to allure them, if possible, into the snare. It is exactly so with men. Some are caught in shoals, while others must be caught singly. There are some that never can be taken in a net, and there are others that can never be taken with a line. You must go about it very cautiously. The fish is a shy creature, and many would-be sportsman has driven away all chance of success by his incautious procedure. Almost anybody can cast a net, but it requires an expert to use the line. People can successfully address large assemblies, who are ill at ease when in personal intercourse with the ungodly. This is a work that demands all our skill and care. You may see a wonderful example of this in our Saviour’s conversation with the woman at the well. I have been in the same boat with several persons, each provided with similar lines, hooks, and bait; and yet some have been as wonderfully successful as others have been strangely unfortunate. The secret, to those who understood fishing, was obvious. The good fisherman, knowing exactly how to manage and tempt his prey, could, with inferior apparatus, secure success; while the novice, with the best patent gear, might sit, and wait and watch in vain. The application is easy. Seek to allure men! Make your Christianity an attractive thing! Surround all you do with the genuine sunshine of the Bible! Reveal Christ, and He “will draw all men unto Him.” Again, his acquaintance with the fishes will teach the fisherman--

3. When to fish. “A word in season, how good it is!” Some fishes are to be caught when the tide is high; others, when it is low; and others, when it is “slack.” Some can be obtained only in cloudy weather, and others may be caught when the sky is clear and bright. For some the daylight is needful, and for others there is no time like the night. And the fit season for approaching men may be equally various. As in fishing, so, as a rule, with men, the best time to seek them is during “the slack” of the tide. It is not well to make the attempt during either the full swing of the flood, or of the strong rush of the ebb. Indeed, no ordinary lead would carry your bait to where they are. You must seek men when they are quiet. It is worthy of observation that most fishes arc caught best in cloudy weather. When the sky is murky and lowering, then the fisherman puts out to sea. This certainly suggests to us the appropriateness of Christian words in seasons of sorrow.

III. MORALLY QUALIFIED TO BE FISHERMEN. Piety, patience, perseverance, and every Christian grace will be needful in this work. Its difficulties are neither few nor small. (W. H. Burton.)

Catching men alive

Thou shalt catch men. The word “catch” is different from any word that has been used concerning the fish, and expresses the catching alive of the prey to be caught; so that the phraseology of our Lord seems to carry with it the thought that fishers of men are to toil for living creatures, and that unless they be caught alive they might as well not be caught at all. How well would it be for all those who are called to be fishers of men, to remember that their work is not to fill their boat with fishes which may serve as food for themselves, but to catch living men and make them servants of the Most High God. (Bishop Goodwin.)

Fishers of men

The design of this miracle was twofold. It was intended--

1. To produce an immediate effect upon the minds of Peter and the rest, to deepen their faith in the Master who had called them, and to set forth His power, His watchfulness, His love. But still more--

2. To take effect in the future; it was emphatically a prophetic miracle--to be looked back to and to yield inexhaustible comfort again and again amid the heavy cares and discouraging tasks of the years to come, when the gospel-net had been finally put into their hands, and they had become “fishers of men.” St. Peter was to translate into spiritual language all that belonged to his old fisherman’s life. He was to understand that it had been in a homely, but still most real, way a preparation for the new unearthly service to which Christ was calling him. So you may remember the simple shepherd-life of David is set forth in the seventy-eighth Psalm as a preparatory discipline for kingly rule. And so, according to the fancy of an early writer, the trade of tentmaker followed by Saul of Tarsus prefigured the work which lay in store for Paul the apostle, as the maker of tabernacles for the people of God, the founder of Churches all over the known world. (Canon Duckworth.)

The promise that Peter should become a fisher of men was made still more impressive by a great symbolical miracle.

1. The number of fish caught at Jesus’ word represented the men he should some day take.

2. As he fished all night and caught nothing, so had he afterwards to labour long in Israel without winning a single human soul.

3. So, too, at Jesus’ word, he put further out into the deep of the great Gentile world, and drew there a great draught.

4. Last of all, there were two boats to fill--the Gentile-Christian and the Jewish Christian Churches. Then the net began to tear, and the opposition of these two sections threatened the Church with a grievous schism. But the draught was brought safely to land, to the confounding of the circumcised Jew, through whose instrumentality this Divine action had been brought about. (B. Weiss.)

Men-catchers

The man who saves souls is like a fisher upon the sea.

1. A fisher is dependent and trustful.

2. He is diligent and persevering.

3. He is intelligent and watchful.

4. He is laborious and self-denying.

5. He is daring--not afraid to venture upon a dangerous sea.

6. He is successful. He is DO fisher who never catches anything. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

There is as much analogy as contrast between the first and second vocations of the sons of Jonas and Zebedee.

1. Like the fisherman, the minister of the gospel must be furnished with a good net, i.e., he must be conversant with the Scriptures, and mighty in them.

2. Like the fisherman, he must be acquainted with the sea, i.e., the world, and not fear to confront its perils in pursuance of his calling.

3. Like the fisherman, he must now mend, now cast his nets.

4. Like the fisherman, he must labour perseveringly, and wait patiently.

5. Like the fisherman, he must enter into the spirit of his vocation, i.e., he must be animated with the enthusiasm of the holy ministry.

6. Like the fisherman, he must dare to expose his life (Acts 20:24).

7. Like the fisherman, he must draw in his net after having cast it. (C. Babut, B. D.)

Sympathy a bait

It is a fact of which we can scarcely make too much, that nothing baits the gospelfisherman’s hook like sympathy. (Dr. J. Clifford.)

Purposeless sermons

Are an insult to God and man. A sermon that aims at anything short of catching men is a mistake. Let us beware of converting means into ends. (Dr. J. Clifford.)

Catching bait

The fisherman, however, thinks far less of his gathering bait than he does of his catching bait, in which he hides his hook. Very numerous are his inventions for winning his prey, and it is by practice that he learns how to adapt his bait to his fish. Scores of things serve as bait, and when he is not actually at work the wise fisherman takes care to seize anything which comes in his way which may be useful when the time comes to cast his lines. We usually carried mussels, whelks, and some of the coarser sorts of fish, which could be used when they were wanted. When the anchor was down the hooks were baited and let down for the benefit of the inhabitants of the deep, and great would have been the disappointment if they had merely swarmed around the delicious morsel, but had refused to partake thereof. A good fisherman actually catches fish. He is not always alike successful, but, as a rule, he has something to show for his trouble. I do not call that man a fisherman whose basket seldom holds a fish; he is sure to tell you of the many bites he had, and of that very big fish which he almost captured; but that is neither here nor there. There are some whose knowledge of terms and phrases, and whose extensive preparations lead you to fear that they will exterminate the fishy race, but as their basket returns empty, they can hardly be so proficient as they seem. The parable hardly needs expounding: great talkers and theorizers are common enough, and there are not a few whose cultured boastfulness is only exceeded by their life-long failure. We cannot take these for our example, nor fall at their feet with reverence for their pretensions. We must have sinners saved. Nothing else will content us: the fisherman must take fish or lose his toil, and we must bring souls to Jesus, or we shall break our hearts with disappointment. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Sucking off the bait

Walking to the head of the boat one evening, I saw a line over the side, and must needs hold it. You can feel by your finger whether you have a bite or no, but I was in considerable doubt whether anything was at the other end or not. I thought they were biting, but I was not certain, so I pulled up the long line, and found that the baits were all gone; the fish had sucked them all off, and that was what they were doing when I was in doubt. If you have nothing but a sort of gathering bait, and the fish merely come and suck, but do not take the hook, you will catch no fish; you need killing bait. This often happens in the Sunday-school. A pleasing speaker tells a story, and the children are all listening; he has gathered them; now comes the spiritual lesson, but hardly any of them take notice of it, they have sucked the bait from the hook, and are up and away. A minister in preaching delivers a telling illustration, all the ears in the place are open, but when he comes to the application of it the people have become listless; they like the bait very well, but not the hook; they like the adornment of the tale, but not the point of the moral. This is poor work. The plan is, if you possibly can manage it, so to get the bait on the hook that they cannot suck it off, but must take the hook and all. Do take care, dear friends, when you teach children or grown-up people, that you do not arrange the anecdotes in such a way that they can sort them out, as boys pick the plums from their cakes, or else you will amuse but not benefit. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Over-cautious fishermen

A very zealous revivalist of our acquaintance was wont to say that over-cautious preachers were like fishermen who refuse to cast forth the net for fear they might catch a devil-fish. (From Hervey’s “Manual of Revivals.”)

Sinners must be taken out of their native element

We must never be satisfied till we lift sinners out of their native element. That destroys fish, but it saves souls. We long to be the means of lifting sinners out of the water of sin to lay them in the boat at the feet of Jesus. To this end we must enclose them as in a net; we must shut them up under the law, and surround them with the gospel, so that there is no getting out, but they must be captives unto Christ. We must net them with entreaties, encircle them with invitations, and entangle them with prayers. We cannot let them get away to perish in their sin, we must land them at the Saviour’s feet. This is our design, but we need help from above to accomplish it: we require our Lord’s direction to know where to cast the net, and the Spirit’s helping of our infirmity that we may know how to do it. May the Lord teach us to profit, and may we return from our fishing, bringing our fish with us. Amen. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The draught of fishes

This miracle illustrates--

I. THE LOW LEVEL OF A LIFE WITHOUT CHRIST FOR ITS MASTER. Fishing had become to these men the chief end and whole aim of living. Up to this time their life was exceedingly narrow. It had no horizon wider than the sea which held their food and supplied their trade. Thus they would have lived and died, but for the call and commission of Christ. The secular ideal of life always binds men to earth. Only Christ can raise it.

II. THE TRUE RELATION BETWEEN BUSINESS AND RELIGION, Our Lord lived a carpenter before He died a Saviour. Through all His early manhood He consecrated manual toil by His own example, and so He wedded the daily and spiritual life for ever in one. Here He sanctions Simon’s business, even while crowning it with a higher calling. Our Lord is master both of business and religion; no drudgery is too low or mean to become, when done for Christ’s sake, the very service of God. How this transfigures the net of the fisher, the miner’s pick, the grocer’s scales, the clerk’s tape: in each of them can be discerned a humble tool for the accomplishment of the Divine will. The servant’s broom, thus held, becomes a sceptre in the hand that holds it.

III. THE SECULAR LIFE, SUBMITTED TO CHRIST, BECOMES A SCHOOL FOR THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. It was in doing His daily work for Christ’s sake that Peter took his first and most needed lesson in apostleship--the lesson of humility. And thus it is, through the arts and implements which are the most familiar, that the Lord is always seeking to lift men up from secular to spiritual lives. As the Eastern astrologers were pointed to the Redeemer’s cradle by a star; as the woman of Samaria, in the very act of drawing water out of Jacob’s well, was led to dip and drink of the sweeter waters of life; as Peter, the fisherman, by a surprising draught of fishes was made lowly enough to catch men--so through the humblest art or calling of the daily life, the Lord is reaching down hands to train and mould us for a purer spiritual life and service. The counting-room is no longer narrow, when thus its higher use as schoolroom of the soul is recognized. Dollars and cents no longer degrade men when they learn to read on their face, not the name of Caesar only, but the holier seal and superscription of God. The irritating cares of home cease to fret the housekeeper’s spirit when she begins to treat them as part of that ministry by which the Lord seeks to make her a more profitable servant.

IV. THE NOBLE SERVICES OF A LIFE CONSECRATED IN ALL ITS ACTIVITIES TO THE LORD. Not all at once; we cannot enter school and graduate the same day. It needs many lessons; line upon line of experience; but success does come at last.

V. PRACTICAL LESSONS.

1. The service of the Lord is always the truest service we can render to ourselves. We have all something to give up to become followers of Jesus. Yet give it up! Yours will be a strange experience if the things you give up for Christ’s sake do not soon look small beside the things you have gained. They will be, in comparison, as the Sea of Galilee to the world, as the worth of a fish to the value of an immortal man.

2. No business on earth is worth following for its own sake. It may be an honest and innocent business; but if it be not also a Christian calling, and that by our own most deliberate choice, it will certainly dwarf the higher nature of him who follows it. It may keep us alive. It may bring us gains. But what are life and wealth worth, in any sober man’s estimate, when thus secured? The “successes” of millionaires have been commonly the worst mistakes of life. There is a higher law reigning over all trades, professions, occupation (1 Corinthians 10:31).

3. The climax of all callings is to be a fisher of men. (J. B. Clark.)

The noblest calling

An eminent New England divine, in his last sickness, was asked by a friend, “What seems to you now the greatest thing?” “Not theology,” said this prince of theologians; “not controversy,” again replied this chief of debaters; “but,” gathering up his last breath to speak the words, while his spirit hovered at the gate of heaven, “the greatest thing in the world is to save a soul.” He spoke of what he knew, for he had felt the joy of delivering many; and could the witness of all saints, from Peter down to the last ascended, be taken, would it not be the same, “the greatest thing on earth is to save a soul”? (J. B. Clark. )

The “net” of a genuine Christian life

You and I may never be heroes of a Pentecost; we are not masters of the great seine, which Peter and John of old, and some modern disciples, shoot out and catch men by the thousands; but have we not some humble hand-net with which we can take a few? Along our coast line, for some years, men have been setting up what they call “weirs,” consisting of a series of enclosed ponds, connected with each other by openings, and terminating, at last, in a netted fence running far out into the bay. Against this netted fence the fish, in their progress, strike, and, following it down, they are safely enclosed, at last, in the smallest pond where they are easily captured when the tide is out. Like this netted arm, running far out into the busy world, is a genuine Christian life. It has none of the special gifts of a Finney or a Moody, but in the coming and going tides more than one soul is arrested by this standing net of a godly life. Unconsciously guided by the holy barrier in their way, they are drawn into stiller waters, and when the tide goes out at last, many, I believe, will be found taken for Christ, and taken by fishers of men whose chief skill has been to stand, to stand firm and without rent, in the midst of a restless sea. (J. B. Clark.)

Catch men by love

Would you be a fisher of men? And do you ask, How may I succeed? Love is the best pilot, the only wise interpreter. Love men as Christ loved them, and you will not mourn your small skill or limited chance. Love will soon show you your own best way. To catch men without love is as hopeless as to catch fish without a net. Love is the net. There never was a wicked sinner unsoftened by a pure and steadfast love. There never was a wayward scholar who did not reward the faithful, patient love of his teacher. Let our love be only such that we can pray as Christ prayed for men, can weep as Christ wept over them, can bleed as Christ bled for them, can stretch our arms of help as wide as He stretched His on the cross of sacrifice I Then we shall be able to catch men, for so He drew us, and so He is drawing the world to Himself. “Fear not,” He seems to say to all who love, yet shrink from this holy calling, “fear not; love men, and you shall catch them.” (J. B. Clark.)

Ministerial lessons

Christ’s method of training His ministers for their high office was very remarkable. It was by a miracle, especially designed to represent, in a figure, their future office, me that the homely trade in which they were engaged was for ever hallowed to be the emblem of the gathering into the Church of such as should be saved.

1. The unwearied patience and consummate skill, without which the fisherman cannot be successful in alluring his prey, are, no doubt, fit illustrations of that constancy of purpose and that heavenly wisdom which are such important elements in the character of the Christian teacher.

2. And, perhaps, the fact that the four disciples had toiled all night and taken nothing, and yet were ready, at their Master’s bidding, again to let down the net for a draught, is recorded as an instance of that unwavering faith in the Divine promise, and that patient continuance in well-doing, which had prepared these simple-minded peasants of Galilee for that office in which the Christian minister has only to obey, while he leaves results in a higher hand, and, even when he fears he has bestowed labour in vain, still to labour on, in reliance upon the assurance that God’s word shall not return to Him void.

3. But perhaps the chief ministerial lesson which our Lord intended to convey to the minds of His apostles was this--that as even the fisherman, in spite of all his skill, must still depend on the power of Him whose is the sea, for He made it, so all the success of the gospel preacher is of the Lord alone. (J. S. Hoare, B. D.)

Fishers of men

I. NONE SHOULD ENTER THE MINISTRY BUT THOSE WHO ARE CALLED OF CHRIST, There are other voices to which young men are apt to listen.

1. There is the voice of the love of a life of literary ease. The young man has a passion for books; his daily toil seems to him mean and degrading; and he fancies that if he were in the ministry he would have nothing to do but to study, and that study would be a lifelong and ever-increasing delight. At the best he becomes a respectable bookworm, who hates preaching, which so greatly interferes with his studies; but he must preach or starve, and so he preaches sermons about the gospel--very learned sermons--which do his hearers about as much real good as would an admirable lecture on the chemistry of food delivered to a number of farm labourers who at the close of a day’s toil had hurried into a kitchen! hungry for food.

2. There is a voice of the ambition to be respectable, genteel!

3. There is the voice of the love of publicity. Sometimes a little success in delivering half a dozen addresses to a Sunday School, or in making as many speeches in a debating society, turns a young man’s brain, and he is sure that his proper place is in the ministry.

4. There is still another voice to which many young men are apt to listen, imagining that it is indeed the voice of Christ calling them to devote themselves to the ministry--the voice of a sincere desire to do good. This desire is quick and powerful in the heart of every young man who has really given himself to Christ. But it is a pitiable mistake to imagine that the call to do good and the call to become a preacher of the gospel is one and the same thing. To none of the voices that I have named should a young man listen when he is debating the question whether he should devote himself to the ministry of the Word. Before he takes that solemn, and in many cases irrevocable step, he should be very sure that it is the voice of Christ that he has heard saying to him, “Follow Me, and I will make you a fisher of men.”

II. BUT--this is the second fact that should be pondered--WHEN A MAN HAS HEARD THAT CALL HE SHOULD OBEY IT AT ANY COST. It may be that he cannot do so without making sacrifices; like Simon and Andrew, James and John, he may have to leave behind him nets, boats, valuable fishing-tackle, and dear friends; he may have to give up great present advantages, still greater prospective advantages; but like those of whom this narrative speaks to us, he should cheerfully forsake all, and follow Christ. Amos, the herdsman, was as true a prophet of the Lord as Isaiah, although he was reared in a palace. The other young man is in the counting-house; he is the eldest son of the successful head of the firm; he knows that in due time he will be a partner in the firm; he, too, is called, clearly called--he has no doubt that it is Christ’s voice he hears--yet he hesitates, for the nets and boats that will have to be left are too many and too valuable; he reminds himself of the fact of which of I have reminded you, that it is not in the ministry only that a man can do good, and so, with this excuse, which he knows is for him a lie, he silences the Voice that calls so clearly. And hence comes that fact, which all the Churches deplore, that so few young men come forth from the middle and upper ranks of society to serve our Lord Jesus Christ as preachers of His Word. This was Garibaldi’s most effective appeal to his fellow-countrymen:--“Soldiers, your efforts against overwhelming odds have been unavailing. I have nothing to offer you but hunger, thirst, hardship, death: let all who love their country follow me” (July 22, 1849). Such an appeal does Christ address to-day to the sons of our Christian merchants and landowners. (Christian Age.)


Verse 11

Luke 5:11

And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed Him

Imitation of the apostles

I.
WITH REGARD TO THOSE POINTS IN WHICH THE EXAMPLE OF THE APOSTLES AT THEIR CALL IS NOT TO BE UNIVERSALLY IMITATED, I would remark at once a wide difference betwixt their case and that of the generality of Christians, which is, that they were entering the ministerial office. Those whom they might convert, either from the errors of Judaism or the blindness of idolatry, might possibly become equally acceptable Christians in the sight of their Divine leader; but there would still remain a line of separation betwixt the two classes, and to each class peculiar duties were annexed. And besides this distinction which we have just noticed, there is another consideration which invests the situation of the apostles in a still more peculiar light. They were going to live day and night, and in constant companionship with one who, having “all power given Him both in heaven and earth,” could, at any moment, supply their wants, whatever those wants might be: and in attending upon whom, therefore, they would be miraculously defended from all those evils which would infallibly overtake any one who now attempted literally to do as they were ordered. And in speculating upon our Saviour’s purpose in this particular miracle, though the idea may not hitherto have occurred to you, it certainly does seem probable that He meant it to have this convincing effect; for that men, earning their precarious livelihood as mere fishermen on the Lake of Tiberias, probably dependent for their next day’s meal on the fortune which attended their over-night’s fishing, would naturally feel their trust much strengthened in our Saviour’s character after such an exhibition of His miraculous power to help them, there cannot be a doubt. Christ foresaw, indeed, though as yet hidden from the apostles’ eyes, that dreadful cloud of persecution which was gathering on every side of them, which in a very short while burst in its first fury upon Calvary, and soon after took off each one of our Lord’s immediate followers by the refined agonies of some cruel death. And having this foreknowledge of what would and must come, Christ took only for the attendants of His mission such as would be undisturbed from their purpose of final perseverance and endurance: such in fact only as, having previously resigned all affections for this world, would be able and willing to quit life at any moment through the martyr’s blood-stained gate. But, my brethren, there are some points in which the example of the apostles must be imitated, if we would be Christians. In the first place, we must imitate the apostles in their readiness to resign all earthly things when put in competition with those of heaven. Secondly, we must imitate them in their liveliness of conscience, to distinguish the value betwixt the body and the soul. Thirdly, we must imitate their perseverance and final triumph, through faith, over the temptations of life and the terrors of death. (A. Garry, M. A.)

Forsaking all

This was indispensable to our becoming disciples. It is indispensable to our continuing disciples.

1. We are to feel habitually that we have nothing of our own. All idea of proprietary rights we are to relinquish.

2. And when the selfish counter pleas that oppose the claims of the rightful Master solicit my consent, I must hear only the one Divine call that bids me forsake all I have in devotion to this new Master.

3. And this renunciation of all must be made in the conviction that there is no use we can possibly make of ourselves and of what we have that can be so sweet, so wise, and so fruitful of good and of blessing, as to lay the whole down at Jesus’ feet. ( A. L. Stone, D. D.)

Love to Christ supreme

A Karen woman offered herself for baptism. After the usual examination, I inquired whether she could give up her ornaments for Christ. It was an unexpected blow. I explained the spirit of the gospel. I appealed to her own consciousness of vanity. I read to her the apostle’s prohibition (1 Timothy 2:9). She looked again and again at her handsome necklace, and then, with an air of modest decision, she took it off, saying, “I love Christ more than this.” (Dr. Judson.)

Leaving all to follow Christ;

The secretary of the Brighton Town Mission narrates the following: “Miss B. was in the theatrical profession, earning as much at times as £21 a week. Through the agencies at work in connection with our hall, she was led to choose the one thing needful. But now came the struggle between duty to Christ and duty to her parents. As she expressed it, ‘ She could not have Christ and go on with her work; therefore, as she felt she would rather die than dishonour Him,’ although only seventeen, she made the happy choice. Every means was taken to win her back; her Bible was burned, her clothes taken from her, she was locked up in her room, she was sent from home, but flattery and persecution were alike in vain, she realized in its fulness the promise, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ She still holds on her way rejoicing.”

Rejecting a kingdom for Christ

This noble act has been left for a converted heathen in India to do for Christ. The account has lately been sent to this country by Mr. C. A. Elliott, C.B., the Commissioner of Assam, who says he supposes the man in question is the only man now alive who has rejected a kingdom for Christ. He was the heir of the Rajah of Cherra, U. Bor. Sing, of Khasia, India, and had been converted to Christianity by the missionaries. U. Bor. Sing was warned that in joining the Christians he would probably forfeit his right to be King of Cherra after the death of Ram Sing, who then ruled. Eighteen months afterwards Ram Sing died; the chiefs of the tribes met together, and unanimously decided that Bor. Sing was to succeed him as Slim (king), but that his Christian profession stood in the way. Messenger after messenger was sent to U. Bor. Sing urging him to go to the missionaries and recant. He was invited to the native council, and there asked to put aside his religious profession, and that then they would all acknowledge him as their king. His answer was, “Put aside my Christian profession! I can put aside my head-dress or my cloak, but as for the covenant I have made with my God, I cannot for any consideration put that aside.” Another was therefore appointed king in his stead.


Verse 12

Luke 5:12; Luk_5:15

Behold a man full of leprosy

The leper cleansed

I.
LEPROSY AFFORDS A STRIKING REPRESENTATION OF THE CHARACTER AND CONSEQUENCE OF SIN.

1. This spiritual leprosy has rendered all our race unclean in the sight of God and in the judgment of His holy law.

2. No skill or power of man can cure this disease.

3. This malady, if not healed, will issue in death. And remember, death is not cessation of being, but a state of awful terror, pain, and wretchedness. This is the issue to which sin is bringing its victims.

4. Yet, thank God, our case is not altogether hopeless; there is a cure.

II. OBSERVE THE STEPS TAKEN BY THIS LEPER TO OBTAIN A CURE. Thus we may learn what the disposition is, in which we should endeavour to approach the Saviour, who alone can heal our spiritual leprosy.

1. The first thing I would notice in this leper’s conduct is the eagerness and haste with which he ran to Jesus immediately he met Him.

2. His reverential selfabasement. His eagerness in seeking relief did not cause him to forget what was due to the character of Him from whom that relief was sought.

3. The confidence he entertained of Christ’s power. Have not we far stronger grounds for this than he had? (J. Harding, M. A.)

Two pulpits

I. Observe HOW MANY ANONYMOUS BELIEVERS THERE ARE IN THE BIBLE RECORD WHO GIVE HELP ALL ALONG THE AGES. Here are mentioned “multitudes,” and among them two persons in particular--a leper and a paralytic. And that is all we know about any individual to whom that eventful day was the beginning of renewed life. No name, no history, no after career; but we suppose that these cripples are in heaven now, and we know that their story has helped thousands to be patient and cheerful on the way thither. It is of little consequence who we are; it matters more what we are.

II. EVEN IN EXTREME HOPELESSNESS OF DISEASE ONE MAY EXHIBIT A SUPREME AND ILLUSTRIOUS FAITH. The cases of these two men were as bad as they could well be; yet did our Lord find in them faith enough to be healed. In the rooms of the American Tract Society, in New York, are still standing two objects which I studied for some meditative years, once a month, at a committee meeting. One is a slight framework of tough wood, a few feet high, so bound together with hasps and hinges as to be taken down and folded in the hand. This was Whitefield’s travelling-pulpit--the one he used when, denied access to the churches, he harangued the thousands in the open air, on the moors of England. You will think of this modern apostle, lifted up upon the small platform, with the throngs of eager people around him, or hurrying from one field to another, bearing his Bible in his arms; ever on the move, toiling with Herculean energy, and a force like that of a giant. There, in that rude pulpit, is the symbol of all which is active and fiery in dauntless Christian zeal. But now, look again: in the centre of this framework, resting upon the slender platform, where the living preacher used to stand, you will see a chair--a plain, straight-backed, armed, cottage-chair--rough, simple, meagrely cushioned, unvarnished, and stiff. It was the seat in which Elizabeth Wallbridge, “the dairyman’s daughter,” sat and coughed and whispered, and from which she went only at her last hour to the couch on which she died. Here again is a pulpit; and it is the symbol of a life quiet and unromantic and hard in all Christian endurance. Every word that invalid woman uttered--every patient night she suffered--was a gospel sermon. In a hundred languages, the life of that servant of God has preached to millions of souls the riches of Christ’s glory and grace. And of these two pulpits, which is the most honourable is known only to God, who undoubtedly accepted and consecrated them both. The one is suggestive of the ministry of speech, the other of the ministry of submission.

III. AN EXPLANATION OF THE MYSTERY AND THE PURPOSE OF SUFFERING. Pain is a sort of ordination to the Christian ministry. Pure submission is as good as going on a foreign mission. Souls may be won to the Cross by a life on a sick-bed just as well as by a life in a cathedral desk.

IV. Hence, we may easily learn WHAT SHOULD BE THE CHIEF OCCUPATION OF AN INVALID. NO one can preach from any pulpit without the proper measure of study. He must thoughtfully ascertain what will make his efforts most pertinent.

1. He will study doctrine.

2. He will study experience, too.

A month ago I saw a brave soldier of the Cross who had been passing through a fiery history of years with broken health, which had taken him from the pulpit of his usefulness and bidden him look into the grave season after season. He was now only able to stand, and sought a new field. Only yesterday he visited me again; in his feebleness he lay on my couch while he talked. He had just come from putting the wife of his manhood, his patient helper and the stay of his home, in the bedlam of a madhouse. Poor in spirit and poor in purse, broken-hearted and alone, he feared he should break again. Yet there he lay, and spoke hopefully and gently. Oh, that valiant brother, quivering in every muscle, but bold and firm in his trustful courage, preached to me in my study as I know I never preached in my church!

V. Some people recover from long illness; Christ heals them, as He did these men in the story. So there is one more lesson for convalescents: WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO DO WITH THEIR LIVES HEREAFTER? “It is a solemn thing to die,” said Schiller, “but it is a more solemn thing to live.” We know the story of the Scotch mother, whose child an eagle stole away; half maddened she saw the bird reach its eyrie far up the cliff. No one could scale the rock. In distraction she prayed all the day. An old sailor climbed after it, and crept down dizzily from the height. There, on her outstretched arms, as she plod with closed eyes, he laid her babe. She rose in majesty of self-denial and took it (as she had been taught in that land) to her minister. She would not kiss it till it had been solemnly dedicated unto God I What shall a man do with a life given back to him? (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)

What has God done to save me?

The divinely-offered key to a right appreciation of Christ’s spiritual work, even to that which theologians call the Atonement, should be sought by observing how our Lord cleansed the lepers, made the blind to see, and the lame to walk. Let us endeavour to realize how He, whose name is the only name given under heaven among men whereby we may be saved, healed men’s diseases, in order that we may understand, so far as it has been revealed, how He saves us from our sins.

I. CONSIDER, FIRST, WHY JESUS HEALED. Not to show that He could, but because He pitied the sufferer. When asked to work miracles to prove His ability to do so, He habitually declined. Every act of healing wrought by Christ was an act of pure compassion. He never healed to attract attention to Himself. He often commanded those He healed to say nothing of their cure.

II. CONSIDER, NEXT, HOW JESUS HEALED.

1. The fact that He had compassion upon them was itself the first step in the cure of many who came to Him. There are diseases in which recovery must begin by regaining lost self-respect. In Christ the most dissolute and disgraced found not only pity, but delicate considerateness. Think, e.g., of His treatment of this leper. We can scarcely conceive what the effect must have been upon a man who had for years been closeted with his loathsome self, or with still more loathsome fellow-sufferers--a man who might not eat with human beings unless the same deadly taint was upon them, nor appear in the street except jangling a bell to give warning of the peril his presence brought; who, if he patted upon the head a carrion dog, it must be instantly killed, lest it should brush against others and defile them, because he had touched it; who, if he saw his mother, his child, his wife approach, must fly or shout, “Unclean, unclean! Keep afar!” We can scarcely conceive what the effect must have been upon such a man, when he saw Jesus draw nigh. The multitude attending the Saviour falls back as men shrink from the plague; for crowds are always cowards. But the Master approaches, and, paying no heed to the jangling bell, the warning cry, lays His hand upon him. For the first time for years the leper feels the touch of a hand that is not hardened by the awful malady. That touch must have made the leper a new man in heart before the quickened pulse could shoot new life into the decaying limbs.

2. In healing, Christ made effort. One must be blind to read the New Testament, and fancy Christ’s cures cost Him nothing because He was Divine. It was because He was Divine that they cost Him so much. If you would seek beings incapable of suffering, you must not go up toward the angels and the great white throne, for there you will find “the Lamb as it had been slain,” but down among the oysters. Do you ask, How did Christ bear men’s diseases? Thus: He sighed, He prayed, He lifted them in His arms, He put His hands upon them, He drew them to His bosom, He groaned, He felt His strength go from Him, to heal their bodies. If He had done less, He would not have made manifest the longsuttering God; and His saving men’s bodies, His bearing their infirmities and healing their diseases, would have been no illustration of the agony with which He wrestled in Gethsemane for the salvation of their souls.

3. In many instances Jesus employed known remedies in physical healing. He manipulated the palsied tongue and the stopped ears--“put His fingers in the ears,” “touched the tongue.” He covered the blind eyes with moist clay, a well-known Egyptian remedy for ophthalmia. He inquired minutely the symptoms of the demoniac boy. He bent over those He healed, He touched them, as careful physicians do. Thus He encouraged, not the breach, but the observance of God’s order. He put honour, by His example, upon the use of scientific remedies. At times He healed by a word, without approaching the sick one. But He seems to have dispensed with remedies only when to employ them was impossible, or when they would have been obviously useless, or when there was a special reason for neglecting them. His example said to those apostles to whom miraculous powers were given, “Use the best means; pray God to bless their use; and when you can do nothing more, pray.” And that is what every wise and instructed Christian tries to do.

4. In all Christ’s healings there was conspicuously revealed the authority of absolute power. When He spoke, devils obeyed, the dead heard, the despairing hoped, the lost knew that they were found. (William B. Wright.)

The touch of Christ; or, the power of sympathy

A lady visiting an asylum for friendless orphan children lately watched the little ones go through their daily drill superintended by the matron, a firm, honest woman, to whom her duty had evidently become a mechanical task. One little toddler hurt her foot, and the visitor, who had children of her own, took her on her knee, petted her, made her laugh, and kissed her before she put her down. The other children stared in wonder. “What is the matter? Does nobody ever kiss you?” asked the astonished visitor. “No; that isn’t in the rules, ma’am,” was the answer. A gentleman in the same city, who one morning stopped to buy a newspaper from a wizened, shrieking newsboy at the station, found the boy following him every day thereafter, with a wistful face, brushing the spots from his clothes, calling a car for him, &c. “Do you know me?” he asked at last. The wretched little Arab laughed. “No; but you called me ‘my child’ one day. I’d like to do something for you, sir. I thought before that I was nobody’s child.” Christian men and women are too apt to feel when they subscribe to organized charities that they have done their duty to the great army of homeless, friendless waifs around them. A touch, a kiss, a kind word, may do much towards saving the neglected little one who feels he is “nobody’s child,” teaching it, as no money can do, that we are all children of one Father. When Christ would heal or help the poor outcast, He did not send him money, but He came close and touched him.

A leper’s logic

This man apparently had no doubt of our Lord’s ability to heal him. It was about Christ’s willingness that he was in doubt. As a rule, men do not naturally associate love and power; they believe in the existence of power far more readily than in that of love. Power seems to create distrust in love.

1. Perhaps because the world is so used to seeing power used arbitrarily and selfishly.

2. Because of the consciousness of sin. It was when Peter saw the Divine power of Christ displayed in the draught of fishes that he said, “Depart from me,” &c. And in the light of this fact, the incident of our text has a peculiar force; for--

I. THE DISEASE FROM WHICH THIS MAN WAS SUFFERING WAS REPRESENTATIVE OF SIN. It was a decomposition of the vital juices, putrefaction in a living body; hence an image of death. The leper was treated throughout as a sinner. “He was a dreadful parable of death.” The case of this leper, therefore--

II. GAVE OUR LORD AN OPPORTUNITY, NOT ONLY TO DO A WORK OF MERCY AND LOVE UPON A DISEASED MAN, BUT ALSO TO GIVE A SYMBOLIC TESTIMONY OF HIS WILLINGNESS TO DEAL LOVINGLY AND FORGIVINGLY WITH A SINFUL MAN. Let US see how Christ’s willingness comes out in this incident.

1. It is not repelled by an imperfect faith.

2. It was shown in Christ’s express declaration. How striking is the way in which He meets that timid “If Thou wilt” with “I will.” (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

“If Thou wilt”

When the leper said, “If Thou wilt,” he narrowed his appeal, and directed it to the will of Jesus. His faith in Christ’s power was very much stronger that his faith in Christ’s goodness. It contained much that was true, but did not contain much more that was equally true. Christ answered, not according to the imperfection of the appeal, but according to its possibility of being perfected. “If Thou wilt” is fitting language for us, not because we doubt His goodness, but because we believe in His wisdom. If we learn that it is God’s will that we should suffer and have disappointment, we hope amidst our pain, and know that our disappointment is after all the appointment of the wiser still, and that, whatever may be in the meantime withheld, the answer will be given at last, “Be thou clean.” (J. Ogmore Davies)

Leprosy

I. PHYSICAL ASPECT.

1. White pustules--eat away flesh--attacking one member after another--at last the bones.

2. Attended with sleeplessness, nightmare, and hopelessness of cure.

3. A living death.

II. SOCIAL ASPECT.

1. Contagion.

2. Lived in a several house, or in bands at a distance from ordinary dwelling.

3. Went with head uncovered, crying, “Room for the leper.”

III. RELIGIOUS ASPECT.

1. Excommunication--no communion with the commonwealth of Israel.

2. In every way a type of the impenitent sinner. For--

3. Sin is a living death; contagious, and separates from God. (F. Godet, D. D.)

Socially restored, as well as morally

And He charged him to tell no man. Assume that the true state of the case was that Jesus wrought a cure, and left it to the priest to declare the patient cured, and all becomes clear, natural, and Christlike. Two things had to be done to make the benefit complete--the disease had to be healed, whereby the sufferer would be delivered from the physical evil; and it had to be authoritatively declared healed, whereby the sufferer would be delivered from the social disabilities imposed by the law upon lepers. Jesus conferred one-half of the blessing, and He sent the leper to the priest to receive from him the other half. He did this, not in ostentation, or by way of precaution, but chiefly, if not exclusively, out of regard to the man’s good, that he might be restored, not only to health, but to society. Hence, also, the injunction of silence. The prevention of unhealthy excitement among the people was only a secondary aim. The primary end concerned the man healed. Jesus wished to prevent him from contenting himself with half the benefit, rejoicing in restored health, and telling everybody he met about it, and neglecting the steps necessary to get himself universally recognized as healed. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)

Show thyself to the priest, &c.

A certificate of the recovery of a leper could only be given at Jerusalem, by a priest, after a lengthened examination, and tedious rites. It will illustrate the bondage of the ceremonial law, as then in force, to describe them. With his heart full of the first joy of a cure so amazing, the leper had to set off to the Temple for the requisite papers to authorize his return, once more, to the roll of Israel. A tent had to be pitched outside the city, and in this the priest examined the leper, cutting off all his hair with the utmost care; for, if only two hairs were left, the ceremony was invalid. Two sparrows had to be brought at this first stage of the cleansing--the one, Go be killed over a small earthen pan of water, into which its blood must drop; the other, after being sprinkled with the blood of its mate--a cedar twig, to which scarlet wool and a piece of hyssop (Psalms 51:1) were bound, being used to do so--was let free in such a direction that it should fly to the open country. After the scrutiny by the priest, the leper put on clean clothes, and carried away those he had worn to a running stream to wash them thoroughly, and to cleanse himself by a bath. He could now enter the city, but for seven days more could not enter his own house. On the eighth day he once more submitted to the scissors of the priest, who cut off whatever hair might have grown in the interval. Then followed a second bath; and now he had only carefully to avoid any defilement, so as to be fit to attend in the Temple next morning, and complete his cleansing. The first step in this final purification was to offer three lambs, two males and a female, none of which must be under a year old. Standing at the outer edge of the court of the men, which he was not yet worthy to enter, the leper awaited the longed-for rites. These began by the priest taking one of the male lambs destined to be slain as an atonement for the leper, and handing it to each point of the compass in turn, and by his swinging a vessel of oil on all sides in the same way, as if to present both to the universally-present God. He then led the lamb to the leper, who laid his hands on its head, and gave it over as a sacrifice for his guilt, which he now confessed. It was forthwith killed at the north side of the altar, two priests catching its blood, the one in a vessel, the other in his hand. The first now sprinkled the altar with the blood, while the other went to the leper and anointed his ears, his right thumb, and his right toe with it. The one priest then poured some oil of the leper’s offering into the left hand of the other, who, in his turn, dipped his finger seven times into the oil thus held, and sprinkled it as often towards the Holy of Holies. Each part of the leper which before had been touched with the blood was then further anointed with the oil, what remained being stroked on his head. The leper could now enter the men’s court, and did so, passing through it to that of the priests’. The female lamb was next killed, as a sin-offering, after he had put his hands on its head, part of its blood being smeared on the horns of the altar, while the rest was poured out at the altar-base. The other male lamb was then slain for a burnt-sacrifice; the leper once more laying him hands on its head, and the priests sprinkling its blood on the altar. The fat, and all that was fit for an offering, was now laid on the altar, and burned as a “sweet-smelling savour” to God. A meal-offering of fine wheat meal and oil ended the whole; a portion being laid on the altar, while the rest, with the two lambs, of which only a small part had been burned, formed the dues of the priest. It was not till all this had been done that the full ceremony of cleansing, or showing himself to the priests, had been carried out, and that the cheering words, “ Thou art pure,” restored the sufferer once more to the rights of citizenship and of intercourse with men. No wonder that even a man like St. Peter, so tenderly minded to his ancestral religion, should speak (Acts 15:10) of its requirements as a yoke which “neither our fathers nor we are able to bear.” (Dr. Geikie.)

The moral of Luke 5:14

Unless we show ourselves to whomsoever is our priest after our healings and cleansings, and after the gift which is commanded us, we are less pure for having been so cleansed, and more diseased for having been so healed. There can be no greater evil than to be prosperous without being prayerful, and strong without being Godlike. You should never finish your successful commercial enterprise with the balancing of your account at the bank. The only duty of your restored vigour is not merely to pay your doctor’s bill. Your healing and your prospering are from Israel’s God; you had better tell Him of them, and tell Him without much ado with man by the way. Tell no man until you know how to speak devoutly, and see no man until you have seen God. You must obey with the new strength before you are free in the use of it. (J. Ogmore Davies.)


Verses 12-15

Verse 15

Luke 5:15

A fame abroad of Him

True popularity

That distinguished and excellent judge, Lord Mansfield, once observed: “True popularity is not that popularity which is followed after, but the popularity which follows after.

A fruitless expedient to prevent overcrowding

Dr. Chalmers, when large audiences attended his services, sometimes announced in the morning that he would repeat the same sermon in the afternoon. On one occasion when he had made that announcement Dr. Wardlaw was present, and gives us an account of the scene. It was on one Sabbath evening. The seats were occupied an hour before the time, and the doors were closed and bolted. An immense crowd was without, and as soon as Chalmers opened the vestry door, in spite of the keepers, the front door was forced open and the crowd rushed in, completely filling all the vacant space. Chalmers was grieved, and administered a sharp rebuke to the audience. Walking home with him, Chalmers said to Wardlaw, “I preached the same sermon in the morning, and, for the very purpose of preventing the annoyance of such a densely-crowded place, I intimated that I should preach it again in the evening. Have you ever tried that plan?” Wardlaw says: “I did not smile. I laughed outright. ‘No, no,’ I replied. ‘My good friend, there are but very few of us that are under the necessity of having recourse to the use of means for getting thin audiences.’” (Bishop Simpson.)


Verse 16

Verse 16-17

Luke 5:16-17

And He withdrew Himself into the wilderness and prayed

Jesus praying

What were the special reasons which led our Lord at this time to go away for prayer.

I. THE NEED OF INWARD REFRESHMENT OF WHICH HE MUST HAVE BEEN CONSCIOUS.

1. Christ was full of the truest, tenderest sympathy.

2. His sympathy was invariably practical

3. It was intensely personal; general enough to embrace the multitude; particular enough to fix itself on the individual. We can imagine, therefore, how exhausted He must have been.

II. THE FEELING OF SADNESS WHICH CAME TO HIM IN VIEW OF THE SPIRITUAL APATHY OF THE MULTITUDES WHO WERE SO EAGERLY SEEKING HIM. If we are deeply concerned for the spiritual welfare of men we shall feel something of the same sadness.

III. HIS CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE DANGER TO HIS SPIRITUAL MISSION WHICH WOULD ARISE FROM A PREMATURE POPULARITY. Prayer is the only true preservative against the perils of success. Because of our success we are in danger--

1. Of rushing on too fast.

2. Of becoming self-dependent.

3. Of growing unsympathetic. (B. Wilkinson,F. G. S.)

The Redeemer an example of solitary prayer

I. UPON WHAT PRINCIPLES ARE WE TO ACCOUNT FOR OUR LORD’S FREQUENT RETIREMENT FOR SOLITUDE AND DEVOTION? A man, though in blessed and ineffable union with God. Made in all points like unto His brethren, with the exception of His sinless purity.

1. The Redeemer would be impelled to cultivate solitude and devotion by the fervour of His piety.

2. Solitary communion with God was necessary to preserve His holy mind from the contaminations of the world, incidental to the possession of a material body, and his participation of human nature.

3. In solitude and prayer, the Redeemer was invigorated to pursue and to accomplish His great work.

4. Our Lord, by this habit of retired devotion, afforded an example and an illustration of His own doctrine, and condemned the hypocritical and ostentatious worship of the Jewish elders.

II. WHAT ADVANTAGES MAY WE EXPECT TO DERIVE FROM IMITATING THE EXAMPLE OF THE SAVIOUR IN THIS PARTICULAR INSTANCE. To suppose the disciple in less need of perpetual supplies of grace than his Lord were folly and presumption.

1. Solitude is favourable to that calm, reflecting, and pensive state of the mind which is suitable to the higher duties of religion.

2. In devout seclusion, the realities of religion are brought more closely home to our consciences and our hearts, and we feel more deeply our individual concern in their truth and consequences.

3. A life of faith in opposition to a life regulated by the exclusive interests of the present world, can only be sustained by habits of private devotion.

4. It secures an effectual refuge amidst the sorrows and calamities of life. (W. Hull.)

Christ and prayer

1. In what His prayers for the most part consisted we know not, but we know that one element, which must ever form an important part in our petitions, could have no place in His. He would not say, “Forgive Me My trespasses.”

2. But though Christ prayed without seeking mercy, of which He had no need, He still truly and earnestly prayed. His devotions were not simply thanksgivings, utterances of praise and gladness, or ecstatic contemplations.

3. In the prayers of Christ, if in nothing else, we see abundant reason for our prayers. ( E. Mellor, D. D.)

The exhaustion of pity

The spirit is never so exhausted as when it is exhausted by being pitiful. For weariness of bone and muscle nature is very generous; rest for that may be found anywhere; the tree will do for shelter, and the stone for a pillow. Weariness of brain is harder to lay aside, and weariness of heart harder still. Brain and limb fail when the heart’s power is gone. Jesus needed the day for work and the night for rest. The spirit must rest and be refreshed by spirit; we are revived again, and often brought to a lively hope through the ministry of life’s friendships, and have been created anew by the consciousness of being understood. Christ had been understood neither when He spake nor acted, but had been wholly when He prayed. We, too, have need of a place apart where we may be refreshed from the presence of the Lord. (J. Ogmore Davies.)

Solitude necessary

Life must have its hours of holy solitude if it would be rich and strong. It is true that we can pray in the city; it is also true that the wilderness has charms of its own for meditative purposes. Silence helps speech. Loneliness prepares for society. Nature has special messages to exhausted workers. After the wilderness came the city, with all its activities and temptations. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Prayer the breath of the spiritual man

A celebrated performer upon the piano was continually familiar with his instrument, for he used to say, “If I quit the piano one day I notice it; if I quit it two days my friends notice it; if I quit it three days the public notice it.” No doubt he correctly described his experience; only by perpetual practice could he preserve the ease and delicacy of his touch. Be sure that it is so with prayer. If this holy art be neglected, even for a little time, the personal loss will be great; if the negligence be continued, our nearest spiritual friends will notice a deterioration in tone and life; and if the evil should be long indulged, our character and influence will suffer with a wider circle. To be a master of the mystery of prayer one must pray, pray continually, pray hourly, pray at all times, pray without ceasing. A Christian should no more leave off praying than the musician should leave off playing; in fact, it is the breath of every spiritual man, and woe be to him should he restrain it! (C. H.Spurgeon.)

A great man at prayer

I had once been spending three weeks in the White House with Mr. Lincoln as his guest. One night--it was just after the battle of Bull Run--I was restless and could not sleep. I was repeating the part which I was to take in a public performance. The hour was past midnight. Indeed, it was coming near to the dawn, when I heard low tones proceeding from a private room near where the President slept. The door was partly open. I instinctively walked in, and there I saw a sight which I shall never forget. It was the President kneeling beside an open Bible. The light was turned low in the room. His back was toward me. For a moment I was silent, as I stood looking in amazement and wonder. Then he cried out in tones so pleading and sorrowful, “O thou God that heard Solomon in the night when he prayed for wisdom, hear me: I cannot lead this people, I cannot guide the affairs of this nation without Thy help. I am poor and weak and sinful. O God, who didst hear Solomon when he cried for wisdom, hear me, and save this nation!” (James E. Murdock.)

Public prayer not always the measure of private prayer

My brethren, do we pray? There is many a minister--pardon me for saying so--who spends more time in public prayer than in private prayer, and not a few spend more time in preaching than in praying. Is this as it ought to be? A faithful pastor went once to see a young man who was a member of his Church, and he said to him, “I have come to ask you if you are on good terms with your Father?” meaning his heavenly Father. The young man seemed very much taken aback, and said to him, “Who told you about me and my father? We have not been on speaking terms for years.” “Oh,” said the minister, “I mean your heavenly Father; but this is very sad.” “Oh, it is sad, and it grieves me in my heart,” said the young man. “Oh,” said the minister, “I have often spent an evening in your house, and I never noticed there was any estrangement between you and your father.” “Ah, no,” says the young man, “we have an arrangement, when we come together in company to act as if nothing had happened; but when we are alone there is no intercourse between us.” (C. Lockhart.)

And the power of the Lord was present to heal them.--

The gospel’s healing power

I. THE POWER OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPEL IS MAINLY A POWER TO HEAL,.

1. It is a Divine power which comes from our Lord Jesus, because He is most surely God. It is the sole prerogative of God to heal spiritual disease.

2. Although our Lord Jesus healed as Divine, remember that He also possessed power to heal because of His being human. He used no other remedy in healing our sin-sickness but that of taking our sicknesses and infirmities upon Himself. This is the one great cure-all.

3. The power which dwelt in Christ to heal, coming from Him as Divine and human, was applicable, most eminently, to the removal of the guilt of sin. Reading this chapter through, one pauses with joy over that twenty-fourth verse, “The Son of Man hath power upon earth to forgive sin.” Here, then, is one of the great Physician’s mightiest arts: He has power to forgive sin.

4. This is not the only form of the healing power which dwells without measure in our glorious Lord. He heals the sorrow of sin. It is written, “He healeth the broken in heart and bindeth up their wounds.” When sin is really manifest to the conscience it is a most painful thing, and for the conscience to be effectually pacified is an unspeakable blessing. Sharper than a dagger in the heart, or an arrow piercing through the loins, is conviction of sin. When Jesus is received by faith, He lifts all our sorrow from us in a moment.

5. Christ also heals the power of sin.

6. And He is able to heal us of our relapses.

II. A second remark arises from the text: THERE ARE SPECIAL PERIODS WHEN THE POWER TO HEAL IS MOST MANIFESTLY DISPLAYED. The verse before us says that on a certain day the power of the Lord was present to heal, by which I understand, not that Christ is not always God, not that He was ever unable to heal, but this--that there were certain periods when He pleased to put forth His Divine energy in the way of healing to an unusual degree. The sea is never empty; it is indeed always as full at one time as at another, put yet it is not always at flood. The sun is never dim, he shines with equal force at all hours, and yet it is not always day with us, nor do we always bask in the warmth of summer. Christ is fulness itself, but that fulness does not always overflow; He is able to heal, but He is not always engaged in healing.

1. On this occasion there was a great desire among the multitude to hear the Word.

2. The healing power was conspicuously present when Christ was teaching.

3. A further sign of present power is found most clearly in the sick folk who were healed by Jesus.

4. The particular time mentioned in the text was prefaced by special season of prayer on the part of the principal actor in it.

III. WHEN THE POWER OF THE LORD IS PRESENT TO HEAL, IT MAY NOT BE SEEN IN ALL, BUT MAY BE SHOWN IN SPECIAL CASES AND NOT IN OTHERS. We do not find that this power was wanting among the publicans; we have an instance here of one of them who made a great feast in his house for Christ. Where, then, was the power lacking? Where was it unsought and unfelt?

1. It was, in the first place, among the knowing people, the doctors of the law. These teachers knew too much to submit to be taught by the Great Rabbi. There is such a thing as knowing too much to know anything, and being too wise to be anything but a fool. Beware of saying, “Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, that is very applicable to So-and-so, and very well put.” Do not criticise, but feel.

2. Those, moreover, who had a good opinion of themselves were left unblest. The Pharisees I no better people anywhere, from Dan to Beersheba, than the Pharisees, if you would take them upon their own reckoning.

3. The people who stood by, as one observes, they did not come to be preached at, they came for Christ to preach before them. They did not come for Christ to operate upon them; they were not patients, they were visitors in the hospitals.

4. Those who felt not the healing power sneered and cavilled. When a man gets no good out of the ministry, he is pretty sure to think there is no good in the ministry; and when he himself, for want of stooping down, finds no water in the river, he concludes it is dry, whereas it is his own stubborn knee that will not bend, and his own wilful mouth that will not open to receive the gospel.

IV. In the last place, I want Christian people here to observe that WHEN THE POWER OF CHRIST WAS PRESENT, IT CALLED FORTH THE ENERGY OF THOSE WHO WERE HIS FRIENDS TO WORK WHILE THAT POWER WAS MANIFEST. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Christ healing the sick

1. The infinitude of Christ’s power.

2. The tenderness of Christ’s power.

3. The beneficence of Christ’s power.

4. The availableness of Christ’s power.

The conditions on which is secured the outflow of Christ’s beneficent power.

1. Helplessness. Leper and paralytic men were unable to relieve themselves.

2. Humility.

3. Faith. (P. P. Davies.)


Verses 18-26

Luke 5:18-26

A man which was taken with a palsy

Carried by four

I.
THERE ARE CASES WHICH WILL NEED THE AID OF A LITTLE BAND OF WORKERS BEFORE THEY WILL BE FULLY SAVED. Yonder is a householder as yet unsaved: his wife has prayed for him long; her prayers are yet unanswered. Good wife, God has blessed thee with a son, who with thee rejoices in the fear of God. Hast thou not two Christian daughters also? O ye four, take each a corner of this sick man’s couch, and bring your husband, bring your father, to the Saviour. A husband and a wife are here, both happily brought to Christ; you are praying for your children; never cease from that supplication: pray on. Perhaps one of your beloved family is unusually stubborn. Extra help is needed. Well, to you the Sabbath-school teacher will make a third; he will take one corner of the bed; and happy shall I be if I may join the blessed quaternion, and make the fourth. Perhaps, when home discipline, the school’s teaching, and the minister’s preaching shall go together, the Lord will look down in love and save your child.

II. We now pass on to the second observation, that SOME CASES THUS TAKEN UP WILL NEED MUCH THOUGHT BEFORE THE DESIGN IS ACCOMPLISHED. They must get the sick man in somehow. To let him down through the roof was a device most strange and striking, but it only gives point to the remark which we have now to make here. If by any means we may save some, is our policy. Skin for skin, yea, all that we have is nothing comparable to a man’s soul. When four true hearts are set upon the spiritual good of a sinner, their holy hunger will break through stone walls or house roofs.

III. Now we must pass on to an important truth. We may safely gather from the narrative THAT THE ROOT OF SPIRITUAL PARALYSIS GENERALLY LIES IN UNPARDONED SIN. Jesus intended to heal the paralysed man, but He did so by first of all saying, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” The bottom of this paralysis is sin upon the conscience, working death in them. They are sensible of their guilt, but powerless to believe that the crimson fountain can remove it; they are alive only to sorrow, despondency, and agony. Sin paralyses them with despair. I grant you that into this despair there enters largely the element of unbelief, which is sinful; but I hope there is also in it a measure of sincere repentance, which bears in it the hope of something better. Our poor, awakened paralytics sometimes hope that they may be forgiven, but they cannot believe it; they cannot rejoice; they cannot cast themselves on Jesus; they are utterly without strength. Now, the bottom of it, I say again, lies in unpardoned sin, and I earnestly entreat you who love the Saviour to be earnest in seeking the pardon of these paralysed persons.

IV. Let us proceed to notice that JESUS CAN REMOVE BOTH THE SIN AND THE PARALYSIS IN A SINGLE MOMENT. It was the business of the four bearers to bring the man to Christ; but there their power ended. It is our part to bring the guilty sinner to the Saviour; there our power ends. Thank God, when we end, Christ begins, and works right gloriously.

V. WHEREVER OUR LORD WORKS THE DOUBLE MIRACLE, IT WILL BE APPARENT. The man’s healing was proved by his obedience. Openly to all onlookers an active obedience became indisputable proof of the poor creature’s restoration. Notice, our Lord bade him rise--he rose; he had no power to do so except that power which comes with Divine commands. He did his Lord’s bidding, and he did it accurately, in detail, at once, and most cheerfully. Oh! how cheerfully; none can tell but those in like case restored. So, the true sign of pardoned sin, and of paralysis removed from the heart, is obedience.

VI. ALL THIS TENDS TO GLORIFY GOD. Those four men had been the indirect means of bringing much honour to God and much glory to Jesus, and they, I doubt not, glorified God in their very hearts on the housetop. Happy men to have been of so much service to their bedridden friend I When a man is saved his whole manhood glorifies God; he becomes instinct with a new-born life which glows in every part of him, spirit, soul, and body. But who next glorified God? The text does not say so, but we feel sure that his family did, for he went to his own house. Well, but it did not end there. A wife and family utter but a part of the glad chorus of praise, though a very melodious part. There are other adoring hearts who unite in glorifying the healing Lord. The disciples, who were around the Saviour, they glorified God too. And there was glory brought to God, even by the common people who stood around. We must, one and all, do the same. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Jesus’ method of doing good

The first thing which He did was not the thing which He was expected by men to do. His first word seemed remote from the thing needing then and there to be done. The friends of that palsied man expected the famed Miracle-Worker to heal him; and instead, Jesus said only, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” That was not the first nor the last time that ecclesiastical logic has drawn a correct circle of reasoning by which the living truth has been shut out. Jesus stood for the moment looking upon the disappointed faces of His friends, and meeting the cruel eyes of His enemies. He knew that His word of Divine forgiveness, which seemed remote from the very present need of that palsied man, and which to the Pharisees was idle as a breath of air, was nevertheless the force of forces for the healing of the world. He knew how to begin His work among men, before any form of suffering, with a word which should bring down to the soul of man’s need the power of the heart of God. The multitude looked on and saw the momentary failure, as it seemed, of the Christ of God. “But Jesus, perceiving their reasonings,” &c. “Whether is easier?” &c. Which is the greater force, the love of God forgiving sin, or the miracle of healing? Jesus began with the greatest work. The miracle, as it seemed to the people, was not the greater work which Jesus knew He was sent to accomplish. The physical miracle followed easily upon the diviner power of God’s love which Jesus was conscious of possessing and exercising over the might of evil, when He said, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” The people, when they saw the lesser work done, not comprehending the power of God then and there present upon the earth, and working first the greater work of the forgiveness of sin, were amazed and filled with fear, and said, “We have seen strange things to-day.” And this opinion of the people must be our opinion of these miracles if we do not know Jesus any better than those doctors of the law at Capernaum had learned Christ. But as in that case soon appeared, Jesus Christ was right in the way He chose to begin His work, and the people were all wrong. He did the harder thing first, and the easier thing next. And the method of the Church, following Christ’s, is profoundly right. It is practically true, The gospel of Divine forgiveness we must put first; our benevolcnces second. Sin is first to be mastered; then suffering is more easily healed. ( Newman Smyth, D. D.)

The gospel of forgiveness

In this miracle many truths are presented to us; e.g.,

1. A strong faith will overcome difficulties.

2. The readiness of Christ to welcome the needy, and to reward faith.

3. The enmity and opposition of the human heart.

4. The superiority of spiritual to temporal blessings.

5. Testimony given to the Divinity of Christ by His

I. THE NEED IT MEETS. The figure presented to us: a paralysed man--helpless, incurable--a mere wreck. Three things combined in him.

1. Disease.

2. Poverty.

3. Poverty of spirit. He had a sense of sin--connected his misery with his sin--was softened, penitent.

II. THE HOPE IT AWAKENS. Indefinite--but the hope of good. Had heard of Jesus. Drawn by the Father. The attraction exercised by Christ. All obstacles overcome. Jesus must be reached.

III. THE BLESSING IT BESTOWS.

1. Forgiveness. A word lightly used; little valued by many. But ask the friend, the child, the sinner who feels himself wrongdoer, and longs for reconciliation.

2. Manner of bestowment.

IV. THE OPPOSITION IT EXCITES. The spirit of opposition to grace always the same; the form differs. Here it was provoked by Christ’s assumption; commonly by man’s presumption.

V. THE VINDICATION IT RECEIVES. Christ proves His power to forgive, confutes His adversaries, saves the man. The gospel may appeal to results. CONCLUSION: Application to

Reflections on the healing of the paralytic

1. This passage suggests some serious consideration relating to the great numbers who sometimes assemble when the gospel is to be preached. Some hear with profit; but how many seem to hear in vain.

2. Be exhorted to imitate the benevolence of the four men who brought the paralytic to Christ. All who are themselves in health, strength, and comfort, ought to be ready to perform the various offices of humanity to those who are in sickness, or any trouble.

3. There are some things here for the consideration of the sick. The best use of sickness is for religious improvement.

4. It is delightful to think that the Son of Man has still power to forgive sin. (James Foote, M. d.)

God interprets prayers

In our prayers, Christ often hearkens more to our wants than our desires. He goes to the very root of the evil, which is sin; and we ought to imitate Him in our afflictions. They who, out of a spirit of charity, pray for others, receive frequently more than they ask. God interprets their prayers; because He understands better what charity asks in them, than they do themselves. (Quesnel.)

Faith’s reward

The hand of faith never knocked in vain at the door of heaven. Mercy is as surely ours as if we had it, if we have but faith and patience to wait for it. (W. Burkitt.)

The healing of the paralytic

Here is an instance of the secondary services which men may render to each other. The men who carried the sufferer could not cure him. Still they could help him by kind and sympathetic attention. We should not shrink from the lower duties simply because we cannot discharge those which are higher. The method of approaching Christ adopted by them, and Christ’s approval of it, show that the one thing to be particular about is to get to Christ, rather than to be fastidious as to the mere manner by which the object is accomplished. The great thing that Jesus Christ valued in men was faith. His answer to the faith of man was always in proportion to the fulness and courage of that faith. In this case He gave the very highest answer at once, with an apparent abruptness that startled the scribes and the Pharisees as if He had committed high blasphemy. Look at the harmony between the action of the men and the speech of Jesus. He did not receive them coldly, and test their sincerity by much questioning and seeming reluctance. On the contrary, no sooner did He see a special exhibition of faith in His power, than He instantly spoke the highest word which God Himself can address to the heart of man. Singularly enough, in this instance Jesus Christ passed from the high spiritual act of forgiveness to the high spiritual act of penetrating the hidden thoughts of those who were secretly accusing Him of blasphemy. The twenty-second verse shows the absolute fearlessness of Jesus, in that He did not wait for an audible expression of unbelief or aversion. He who could thus read the heart showed another phase of that great power by which He released man from the captivity of his guilt. The power is one; only in its application is it varied. In His further remarks upon this cage Jesus Christ shows that He can begin His work either from the highest spiritual or the highest physical point. It is curious to observe how sensitive were the scribes and Pharisees in the matter of the forgiveness of sins by any but God Himself, and yet how dull they were to draw the right inference from the fact that Jesus perceived their thoughts. The man who can read the thoughts of the heart has a presumptive claim to be considered able to do more than lies within the sphere of ordinary men. We find, however, that they passed from this instance of spiritual insight without a remark. This is a danger to which we are all exposed--the danger, namely, of seeing blasphemy where we ought to see Divinity, and of neglecting to construct the right argument upon such evidences of Christ’s power as are patent to our own observation. The effect produced upon the minds of the spectators (Luke 5:26) was apparently satisfactory, yet not really and permanently so, or there could have been no recurrence of hostility. We see from this how possible it is to be amazed, even to glorify God and to be filled with fear, and yet to fall back from this high feeling into positive distrust and enmity. Feeling must be consolidated by understanding, or it will prove itself a poor defence in the day of repeated trial. Christianity is an argument as well as an emotion; and to separate them is to divide our strength and to miss the great purpose of Christian instruction. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The story

1. Is an admirable commentary on the psalmist’s words, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” As we follow the steps of the narrative, we feel how, by His gentleness, by the wise gradations of His approach to the paralytic’s true need, Christ is gradually raising him into his best moods.

2. Reminds us that in His grace Christ rewards the very moods of faith and hope which He Himself has produced. He says, “Be of good courage”; and, at the word, courage springs up in our fearful hearts. He says, “Thy sins are forgiven”; and we are able to believe that He, who can forgive sins, can do for us whatever we may need. And then, having inspired faith and courage, He rewards them as though they were our virtues rather than His gifts: He bids us “arise and walk,” to prove our victory over sin, to show that we have found new life in Him. So that the reward He bestows is--new and happier service.

3. Teaches that Christ often crosses our wish to supply our want. No doubt the supreme desire of the Galilean paralytic was deliverance from the palsy. But that is not the first thing Christ grants him. There must be faith before there can be healing; the man’s sins must be forgiven before he can be made whole from his disease. But then, when our sins are really forgiven us, forgiveness implies a free restoration to health. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The vicarious nature of faith

We have here a distinct recognition of the value of intercessory prayer, or, if I may so express myself, of vicarious faith. God, we learn therefore, hears prayers of believing men offered up not for themselves but for others.

1. This doctrine is Scriptural. Abraham, Moses, &c.

2. This doctrine is reasonable. It can give a good account of itself before the bar of philosophy. It is a wise, God-worthy policy to encourage men to pray, live, and even die for one another, in the assurance that they pray not, live not, die not in vain.

3. The duty arising out of the foregoing doctrine is plain. It is without ceasing to desire and to pray for the well-being, spiritual and temporal, of all men, specially of those whose case Providence brings closest home to us. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)

Spiritual uses of affliction

I. A CASE OF DIRE DISEASE.

II. PRACTICAL SYMPATHY EVOKED.

III. UNEXPECTED HINDRANCES.

IV. THE INGENUITY OF FAITH.

V. A GRACIOUS ORDER OF BLESSING.

VI. PLAUSIBLE OBJECTIONS CONFUTED.

VII. HUMAN RESTORATIONS BY JESUS MADE COMPLETE.

VIII. HUMAN SUFFERING RESULTING IN BRINGING GLORY TO GOD. (D. Davies, M. A.)

Who can forgive sins?

I. Whether God can forgive sins or not, it is certain that NO OTHER BEING CAN. We have no right to forgive one another. We cannot forgive one another. Forgiveness, real and complete, can neither go nor come, can neither be given nor accepted, between man and man. As I have said before, God would have to die first. Eternity would have to end first. This is what conscience says to-day, will say to-morrow, and will say for ever. I am almost ashamed to be insisting upon any thing so elementary and axiomatic. But I dare not be ashamed of it. There is Something in the air which predisposes us to think lightly of sin. And I must warn you against it; and warn myself against it. Questions of conscience are only in part subjective and social. They are between us and the Unseen; between us and the Eternal; between us and the All-Just; between us and the All-Terrible. I do not see nor touch Him yet. But when this tired breast stops heaving, and this tired pulse stops beating, quick as thought, quicker than lightning, I shall be with Him, face to face. Only one question shall I then care to have answered: Can He forgive? I do not, dare not, can not forgive myself; can He forgive me?

II.

Let us ask, and answer this question now: Can God forgive? In the dainty, superficial thinking of our time, which comes of so much self-indulgence, softening the mental and moral fibre, Divine forgiveness is easy.

It is assumed that suffering must cease some time.

A bold assumption, in the face of a creation which has always sighed and groaned.

If God is not impeached or disturbed by suffering to-day, why need He be to-morrow, or next day, or the next? Much is said also of our insignificance, and that, too, by men who, in other relations, make great account of the dignity of human nature.

God, it is said, can suffer no loss at our hands.

We cannot rob Him of any treasure.

Somebody once asked Daniel Webster what was the most important thought that ever occupied his mind. The propriety of the question hardly equalled the solidity of the answer. “The most important thought that ever occupied my mind,” said he, “was that of my individual responsibility to God.” Psychology admits no possibility of forgiveness. On purely rational grounds, it is inconceivable. Plato could see nothing ahead but either penalty, or penance. Some speakers and writers of our time, affecting philosophy, are eloquent about work and wages, being and condition, character and destiny. Very well, gentlemen: but do you know what you are saying? You hate our iron-clad orthodoxy. But our creed, as you must yourselves admit, has some mercy in it; while your creed has no mercy in it at all. To be consistent, you should get rid of your idea of a personal God, as perhaps you have already. As you put things, this universe might just as well be governed by some impersonal Force. The laws are all alike, whether physical or moral. Atonement suggests and warrants the declaration that “God is Love.” Somehow, on the basis of this atonement, and in pursuance of its purpose, God forgives. What is forgiveness? Not mere remission of penalty. Moral penalty never can be remitted without moral change. To forgive an offence that I know will be repeated is to be accessory to that offence, before and after. Divine forgiveness can go no farther than human forgiveness, and achieve no more. It must observe the same ethical laws. It must have the same high ethical tone. “Go, and sin no more,” is always the condition of forgiveness. (R. D. Hitchcock, D. D.)

Zeal will always find a way to accomplish its purpose

It seems to have been a common practice with their (the Waldensian) teachers, the more readily to gain access for their doctrines among persons in the higher ranks of life, to carry with them a box of trinkets, or articles of dress, something like the hawkers or pedlars of our day; and Reinerius thus describes the manner in which they were wont to introduce themselves: “Sir, will you be pleased to buy any rings or seals or trinkets? Madam, will you look at any handkerchiefs or pieces of needlework for veils; I can afford them cheap.” If, after a purchase, the company ask, “Have you anything more?” the salesman would reply, “Oh, yes; I have commodities far more valuable than these, and I will make you a present of them, if you will protect me from the ecclesiastics.” Security being promised, he went on: “The inestimable jewel I spoke of is the Word of God, by which He communicates His mind to men, and which inflames their heart with love to Him.” (Milner.)

A mother’s belief that God would justify her faith for her son’s conversion

A touching story of a mother’s faith is that of a dying Scotch mother, who in praying for and speaking of a wandering son, whom she had not heard from for years, said: “O God, Thou knowest I consecrated Jamie to Thee when he was an infant in my arms. Thou knowest I have prayed for him with the prayer of faith--a mother’s faith, every day ever since he was born. He is Thy child; Thou must go after him and find him, and bring him into the kingdom, for Thou hast promised, and Thou art faithful to fulfil Thy promises. Thou canst not lose my Jamie from the fold. I know that Thou wilt save Jamie for me, and I shall meet him in the land where none ever wander away from the green pastures and the still waters.”

Faith honoured

“There is no use in keeping the church open any longer; you may as well give me the key,” said a missionary in Madras, as in the course of a journey he passed through a village where once so many of the natives had professed Christianity that a little church had been built for them. But the converts had fallen away, returned to their idols, and there only remained faithful the one poor woman to whom now the missionary was speaking. “There is Christian worship in the village three miles off,” he added, noticing her sorrowful look; “any one who wishes can go there.” “Oh, sir,” she pleaded, most earnestly, “ do not take away the key! I at least will still go daily to the church and sweep it clean and will keep the lamp in order, and go on praying that God’s light may one day visit us again.” So the missionary left her the key, and presently the time came when he preached in that very church crowded with repentant sinners; the harvest of the God-given faith of that one poor Indian woman.

Rejoicing through forgiveness

We now visit an old man of seventy-five, who had been a coachman and cabdriver in Paris. We have known him for ten years. His home is humble, but it was very interesting to look in from time to time on old Grimmer and his wife, both of them diligently cutting into strips a sort of coarse lace to try and earn something for their own support. He was a great sufferer through gout for the last two years, and when the thought came forcibly home to him that he could not live much longer, the sins of his past life weighed heavily upon his mind. ‘You have no idea,’ he would say, ‘of the sins I have committed during my long life, and if I only knew they were forgiven I should not be afraid to die.’ The feeling quite overpowered him. We visited him, and read God’s Word with him, and after some months the light shone in upon him, and all was changed. But let him tell his own simple story; ‘I know now my sins are all forgiven, for the sake of my Saviour, who died for me. Yes, though I am such a great sinner, God has forgiven me all. I used to be so frightened when I awoke at night, and seemed to see dreadful spirits round me; but now, when I am awake, I pray to God, and I seem to know He is in the room with me. One night I am sure I saw Jesus standing before me when I was praying.’ His faith was bright to the last, and he passed quietly away to ‘ the home above.’” (Miss Leigh’s work in Paris.)

“Sixty-five years’ sins all forgiven”

This was the language of Mrs. B--, who has been visited by the missionary for many years. She always received my visits, and was willing to hear the Scriptures read, but was totally blind to their spiritual application, and always said she was too bad to be forgiven; but this was as a cloak to cover her indulgence in sin. About nine months ago she manifested a deep concern about her spiritual condition. She said, “It’s no use talking to me, the day of grace is gone, I am afraid there is no hope for me.” I repeatedly visited her, read and prayed with her. She attended all the meetings, and would cry out, “Lord, save me, if thou canst look upon a poor sinner like me! “At night she was terrified with dreams.” My old man,” she said,” declared I was gone mad. I said, ‘It’s my sins, my sins!’ I didn’t know what to do nor where to go. It was at the Mission-room last June that I heard distinctly a voice that said, ‘Thy sins which were many are all forgiven thee.’ I felt such a change; I’m an old woman, but I could dance for joy; it is wonderful the Lord Jesus forgave me. Sixty-five years’ sins all forgiven!”

Omniscience of Christ

Nature, in all her realms, lies open to His eye. No pearl of the deep, no metallic splendour of the mine, but shines to Him. No flower of a day, no tree of a century, no forest of a millennium, but has in petal, foliage, and gathering girth a history He intimately knows. No fish, glancing through the seas, no beast, wild or subdued, no bird, savage or harmless, but has a biography whose every incident is clear in the flame of His all searching eyes, and, pointing to man, He says: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” And is He so minutely acquainted with man’s decorating and living crown? He has as intimate acquaintance with the thoughts of man’s mind and the feelings and aspirations of his soul. Every creature, small and great, every event of every life, every sin, sorrow, fear, and hope, lives simultaneously, completely, unerringly, in the light of His countenance. (G. T. Coster.)

Christ can see through men

He needed not that one should tell Him what was in men; He knew it. He, looking upon men, looked upon them as if they were glass, and as if their soul’s machinery was perfectly visible within them. As we, looking upon a clock, see its whole mechanism, so Christ, looking upon men, seemed to see the interior men more than the exterior. (H. W. Beecher.)

The simplicity of Christ’s method of healing

I looked the other day into old Culpepper’s Herbal. It contains a marvellous collection of wonderful remedies. Had this old herbalist’s prescriptions been universally followed, there would not long have been any left to prescribe for; the astrological herbalist would soon have extirpated both sickness and mankind. Many of his receipts contain from twelve to twenty different drugs, each one needing to be prepared in a peculiar manner; I think I once counted forty different ingredients in one single draught. Very different are these receipts, with their elaboration of preparation, from the Biblical prescriptions which effectually healed the sick--such as these. “Take a lump of figs and lay it for a plaster upon the boil”: or that other one: “Go and wash in Jordan seven times”; or that other; “Take up thy bed and walk.” One cannot but admire the simplicity of truth, while falsehood conceals her deformities with a thousand trickeries. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The purpose of Christ’s miracles of healing

It is not so easy a matter as it might seem, to explain the multitude of the miracles that are narrated or referred to in these Gospels which give us all that we know of the life of Jesus the Messiah. The accounts of them make up a large part of the four Gospels. Why is it that the three brief years of Christ’s miracles should have been so largely consumed in these hundreds, thousands of acts of healing men’s bodily ailments and infirmities, and even inconveniences? What was the purpose, and what was the result, of all these mighty works?

1. If the one object of Christ’s miracles was directly to reduce the sum of human misery, then they were a failure; for their result was inappreciably small and insignificant. What a mere drop of solace in an ocean of agony 1 What an atom of comfort beside the huge, mountainous mass of human woe.

2. Such an object as that of arbitrarily interrupting the general course of human suffering by miraculous interference, not only was not accomplished by the power of Christ, but it ought not to have been accomplished it would not have been a blessing. The notion that there was too much pain and suffering in the world--more than was right, more than was best, more than was needed by mankind for their own good--the notion that God our Father had dealt hardly by His children, and that the Son of God, with a superior love, came down to mitigate the hardship which the Father’s too great severity had imposed--is quite too much like some other of the obsolete notions of a mediaeval theology, and quite too much unlike the Word of God. For it is not true. God tolerates no pain in the world that can be spared. It was not in revenge or cruelty, but in that justice which is another name for love, that He pronounced on the apostate race the curse of toil and suffering and death. His curse was the best blessing that mankind, sinful, apostate, were capable of receiving.

3. The real answer is declared in the text. When God interferes to break the dreadful chain of moral causes that binds penalty to sin, He gives sign and token of the same, by breaking also the chain of physical cause and effect that holds the creation groaning under bondage to bodily pain and weakness. When He sends His only-begotten into the world, He adopts this way to signalize Him to the wretched, the poor, the hungry, the sick, the palsied, the sinful and unhappy of every land and language and century, as God’s authorized Commissioner.

4. Christ’s works, moreover, set before us the way of salvation--the way in which He gives it, the way in which we are to receive it. The miracles are parables--not the less parables for being also facts. And this miracle, in particular, shows the order in which the devil’s works are destroyed by the Holy One of God--not first pain and sorrow, and then sin; but first sin, and then the pain, sorrow, death that sin has wrought. (Leonard W. Bacon.)

The healing of the palsied

I. THIS MIRACLE IS A PARABLE.

1. Of Divine power and love.

2. Of human faith.

II. CONSIDER THE PARALYTIC’S PRAYER. It was a wonderful prayer--so brief, so comprehensive, so affecting, so complete; stating the whole case, setting it forth in every particular, detailing every symptom of the malady, urging every argument of sympathy, calling for exactly the comfort and help that were required;--such was the prayer offered by the sick of the palsy, as his couch with its half-dead burden dropped on the ground at the feet of the Christ. What then did he say? Not one word! The silence which this strange intruder brought with him into the school of Christ was broken only by the voice of the Son of Man Himself--“Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee.” He had told his story well. There was a dead and leaden limb hanging to a half-lifeless trunk. There was a hand shaking with the helpless tremor of the nerves that could do little more than tremble. There were the lips drooling and mowing, and the tongue lolling with a look like idiocy within the gate of speech, and the eyes, last refuge of the blockaded intellect, looking with longings that cannot be uttered toward Him who is the Life. And now do you ask. What did he may? Rather, What did he leave unsaid? It was an unspoken prayer, but not a prayer unuttered or unexpressed. I find, in the very nature of this sick man’s malady, some instructive indications as to what is the prayer of faith, and what is faith that gives prevailing power to prayer. It is not without significance that so large aproportion of our Lord’s miracles of healing were wrought on the blind and the palsied--the sufferers from those two forms of human infirmity which most discipline one to a sense of his own helplessness and need, and most educate him in the habit of confiding in the strength and wisdom and faithfulness of another. And as I meditate of blindness and palsy, I better understand the darkness and impotency of sis, and what is that faith by which we should commit ourselves to the infinite wisdom, love, and power of God.

III. CONSIDER THE ANSWER WHICH THE PALSIED MAN RECEIVED TO HIS PRAYER. If it seemed at first, to any, that he had uttered no prayer at all, such will surely think at first that he received no answer at all. Very commonly this is true, in the Gospels, of the Lord’s response to those who come to Him. “Jesus answered and said,” we read; but the answer has no obvious relevency to what was asked (John 3:1-3). He answers, not the words, but what lay in the heart, behind the words. In such wise He answers the prayer of the palsied--a prayer that says, plainer than any words can say it, “Lord, that I might be healed.” It seems no answer at all--“Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee.” There seems to besome untold story here. There is more than palsy--there is sin; if not an anxious face, at least a troubled conscience. And there is a keen diagnosis on the part of the Great Healer, going deeper than the surface symptoms, reaching to the inmost roots of the trouble. And His answer is given accordingly. Observe in it--

1. That the paralytic received the substance, though not the form, of what he had asked, to his entire satisfaction. For a similar case, see 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Did the features of the paralytic, think you, betray to the gazing and murmuring scribes some sign of disappointment or discontent, when those majestic words were spoken down to him--“Thy sins be forgiven thee”? Is it ever those who cry mightily to God, who are found complaining that He is slack concerning His promises? And if not, then who are you that are finding fault--making bold to come between the saint and his Saviour, to complain that the covenant is not fully performed? If Christ is satisfied, and the suppliant soul is satisfied, who are we that we should interfere to measure the prayer against the answer, and remonstrate with the Lord that His ways are unequal. Nay, I take you all to witness--

2. That this petitioner received more than the equivalent of what he had asked, by as much as it is a greater thing to suffer and be happy and joyful in the midst of suffering, than it is not to suffer at all. Many a sick man has implored the Lord for health and strength, and won a blessing greater than he asked, in learning “how sublime a thing it is to suffer and be strong.” Many a bankrupt man, that had struggled, with anxious calculations and many an earnest petition, for deliverance from accumulating troubles, and seemed to find no answer from God, has been rewarded at last with the heavenly gift of grace to step majestically down from wealth to poverty, and has found a joy in low estate beyond what wealth could ever give.

3. But now observe, finally, that when he had received the equivalent of his prayer, to his full content; and when he had received “exceeding abundantly above what he had asked”; at last, this palsied man was given the identical thing which he had asked. Not for his sake--no, he did not ask it now. He was of good cheer--his sins were forgiven him. So far as appears, he was full of exceeding peace and content, craving nothing more, but wholly satisfied, the rest of his appointed time, to lie a helpless infant in the everlasting arms. No, it was not for his sake, but “that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power,” &c. For now the palsy had accomplished its work and could be spared. It had brought the sufferer, and laid him low and helpless at the feet of Jesus to receive the forgiveness of his sins, and what more could it do for him? The time was come, at last, when it might be dismissed, but not till now. And Christ is not so unkind as to give healing so long as suffering is still needed. He is not less merciful than the Father, as He is not more merciful. Would you dare to ask that your grief, your pain, your burden should be taken away before its work was done? Could you bring your mind to wish that all these past hours, and days, and weeks, and weary months of suffering should have been in vain; and that God should call back these stern but kindly servants of His, while yet their mission was incomplete, and bid them Let him alone I sorrow is wasted on him I he is joined to his idols; let him alone? But now, the sick of the palsy is forgiven and at peace. The sickness has well fulfilled its painful but beneficent ministry, and He who is Lord over all the powers of life and death, that saith to this one, Come, and he cometh, and to another,! Go, and he goeth, may call away this sad-faced angel, and send him back to where, before the throne, they “stand and wait” for some new bidding upon messages of love. (Leonard W. Bacon.)

Strange things

I. MARK THE STRANGE THINGS OF THAT PARTICULAR DAY.

1. Power present to heal the doctors (Luke 5:17).

2. Faith reaching down to the Lord from above (Luke 5:19).

3. Jesus pardoning sin with a word (Luke 5:20).

4. Jesus practising thought-reading (Luke 5:22).

5. Jesus making a man carry the bed which had carried him (Luke 5:25).

II. MARK THE STRANGE THINGS OF CHRIST’S DAY.

1. The Maker of men born among men.

2. The Lord of all serving all.

3. The Just One sacrificed for sin.

4. The Crucified rising from the dead.

5. Death slain by the dying of the Lord.

III. MARK THE STRANGE THINGS SEEN BY BELIEVERS IN THEIR DAY WITHIN THEMSELVES AND OTHERS.

1. A self-condemned sinner justified by faith.

2. A natural heart renewed by grace.

3. f soul preserved in spiritual life amid killing evils, like the bush that burned with fire and was not consumed.

4. Evil made to work for good by providential wisdom.

5. Strength made perfect in weakness.

6. The Holy Ghost dwelling in a believer.

7. Heaven enjoyed on earth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Revivals of religion

I. THIS INFLUENCE SUCCEEDED TO PRAYER. It is said our Redeemer had withdrawn into the wilderness to pray; He had just come from the wilderness, where He had been engaged in earnest prayer with the Father, no doubt for the salvation of a lost world; for this was the errand upon which He came to our earth, this was the work which He took upon Him, and with reference to this work were all His engagements. We are sure His prayers, when presented to His Father, had a special and direct reference invariably to the salvation of a lost world. After thus praying He came forth, and it was then this extraordinary influence was present. In all ages, God hath made the execution of His gracious purposes to depend upon the exercise of the forth-putting of earnest prayer. Throughout the Old Testament dispensation, we find all those who were raised up by Him to bring about the spiritual or temporal deliverance of His people, were instructed to do so in the spirit of prayer. When the holy prophet Daniel was made aware that the set time to favour Zion was come, even after knowing this he did not restrain prayer, but gave himself to this duty as one which must be performed in order to the accomplishment of God’s gracious purposes.

II. THIS GRACIOUS INFLUENCE WAS IN CONNECTION WITH THE TEACHING OF JESUS. Jesus had not only been praying, and was now in the spirit of prayer, but He was teaching, and the Lord hath made the salvation of the world to depend upon the faithful teaching of the doctrines of Christ: “ Go ye,” said our Redeemer, “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

III. We observe THE CONVERSION OF THIS MAN WAS BROUGHT ABOUT BY EXTRAORDINARY MEANS. NOW the present state of the Christian Church, and this professedly Christian land, calls to extraordinary efforts. We have been trying for a length of time to get people by the door, and if the house has not always been crowded, as it has not in some instances (the more the pity), yet, in innumerable instances it has been crowded with devils, who kept out poor sinners, who prevented them from coming in: and there we have been too ready to leave them, because we were afraid of stepping out of the ordinary course--that we should do anything out of the usual way, lest the whole town should be in a stir, and that any of the people of God should think we were disposed to signalize ourselves. Now we wish you to be impressed with this; and beware, because you have happened to see a conversion affected by extraordinary means, of supposing that this is the only way, and that this way always succeeds, and no other will. It is an extraordinary way suited to extraordinary circumstances; and, I believe, extraordinary circumstances are more general than people are disposed to admit. But what will take place then? Why, if you act thus, there will be a great deal of excitement, and people will talk against it; they will say, oh, take care of excitement (for the excitement has been very great amongst us in several instances)--take care you do not excite the people. We ask them to specify any good reason why we should not try to excite the people, and then we will desist. Are they too susceptible? Is not the world affected with excitement in other quarters? There is plenty of excitement in the theatre, plenty of excitement in the ball-room, and no one attempts to fasten upon them the charge of enthusiasm. These men are most rational, the very lights of the world, fitted to expound everything that appears a mystery I It is only in the house of God, where the most stirring subjects are brought before us, that it is thought better to be as still as possible; that is, it is thought a perfect breach of decorum for there to be the slightest indication of sympathy in the statements made. We are in perfect bondage; we dare not utter our feelings lest some that stand by should say that we are enthusiasts. But then, if the Lord thus appear, if the Lord make bare His arm, they will say, oh, it is all sympathy it spreads from one to another. We admit that, to a considerable extent, sympathy is the means that God employs. But, further, if you thus get the Influence of God down upon the people, the power of Christ communicated to their hearts, and have the matter settled by the testimony of the Spirit, they will object to the suddenness of the conversion. God’s way of salvation is very simple, and the person who has been brought to exercise a believing act will learn more in a few hours than he could by years of study previous to its exercise. (J. M’Lean.)

Forgiveness and healing

I. THE SICK MAN AND HIS FRIENDS.

1. The sick man.

2. The sick man’s friends. Several interesting particulars are suggested by their action in this matter.

Strange things

The world is a-weary, and longs for something novel. The greatest stranger in the world is Jesus; and alas l He is the least seen, and the least spoken of by the most of men. If men would come and watch Him, they would see strange things. His person, His life, His death, are full of strange things. What He is doing now has as much as ever the element of strangeness and wonder about it. Life never grows stale to a companion of Jesus. Do you find it becoming so, and are you a believer? Seek the conversion of your family, and your neighbourhood. Seek to know more of Jesus at work among men. This will cause you to see stranger and stranger things, till you see the strangest of all with Christ in glory. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Two kinds of wonder

Wonder at the work of God is natural, justifiable, commendable. He is a God of wonders. It is right to say of the Lord’s doing, “It is marvellous in our eyes.” We are to talk of all His wondrous works; but this must be in the spirit of devout admiration, not in the spirit of suspicion and doubt. A holy, grateful wonder should be indulged to the full; but a cold, sceptical wonder should be resisted as a suggestion from Satan. Faith accounts all things possible with God; it is unbelief that in credulously marvels at the work of His hand. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

God’s wonders

Guthrie, of Fenwick, a Scotch minister, once visited a dying woman, whom he found very anxious about her state, but very ignorant. His explanation of the gospel was joyfully received, and she died soon afterwards. On his return home, Guthrie said, “I have seen a strange thing to-day--a woman whom I found in a state of nature, I saw in a state Of grace, and left in a state of glory.”


Verse 27-28

Luke 5:27-28

And saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom

A publican

Publican was the name given to an employe of low degree, whose duty it was to get in the tribute money.
He was the agent of the farmers-general, great personages who lived by their depredations, after the publicans themselves had kept back an exorbitant percentage on the money levied. The Talmuds often betray the scorn felt for the publicans. Their testimony was not accepted in a court of justice. Probable that the publicans were allowed no more rights than the heathen, and that the Court of the Gentiles alone was open to them
. (E. Stapfer, D. D.)

The Jews, who bore the Roman yoke with more impatience than any other nation, excommunicated every Israelite who became a publican; and the disgrace extended to his whole family. Nobody was allowed to take alms from one, or to ask him to change money for them. They were even classed with high-way robbers and murderers, or with harlots, heathen, and sinners. No strict Jew would eat, or even hold intercourse, with them. (Dr. Geikie.)

AT THE RECEIPT OF CUSTOM.

From fishers’ net, from fig-trees’ shade,

God gathers whom He will;

Touch’d by His grace all men are made

His purpose to fulfil.

But not alone from shady nooks,

Fresh with life’s noontide dew

From humble walks or quiet books,

Calls He His chosen few.

Out of the busiest haunts of life,

Its most engrossing cares,

Its mighty travail, daily strife,

Self-woven golden snares--

He for His vineyard doth provide,

His gentle voice doth move

The world’s keen votaries to His side,

With its persuasive love.

ST. MATTHEW THE APOSTLE.

At once he rose, and left his gold;

His treasure and his heart

Transferred, where he shall safe behold

Earth and her idols part;

While he beside his endless store

Shall sit, and floods unceasing pour

Of Christ’s true riches o’er all time and space,

First angel of His Church, first steward of His grace.

(J. Keble.)

The call of St. Matthew

Matthew was the son of Alphaeus, or Cleopas who had married the sister, probably the elder sister, of our Lord’s mother. Not unlikely that he was the Cleopas who walked to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). A holy family--Israelites indeed. To such a family, what calamity could be more terrible than that one of the sons should become a publican, a renegade to the Hebrew faith, a traitor to the Hebrew commonwealth? Levi had taken service with the Romans. Day by day, in their own city of Capernaum, he was to be seen sitting at the receipt of custom. Whenever boats came into the little port, it was his duty to take dues of them. Whenever a caravan reached the city, he had to take toll of the goods with which the weary camels were laden. And these tolls and dues were paid, not into the Jewish treasury, but into the purses of the Roman knights. For the true publicani were Romans of wealth and credit who “farmed” the taxes of a province. In the collection of these taxes they commonly employed natives of the province, who were, as a rule, infamous for their extortions. Only the lowest and most profligate of the people would accept so degrading an office. What led Levi thus to wound and put to shame those who loved him so well? It may be that the very austerity of their piety alienated him from them. It may be that he was simply thoughtless and pleasure-loving. It would be a keen joy to the Lord Jesus to give joy to such good people as His uncle and aunt and cousins, to restore peace and union to the family in which He had lived so long. This was His pleasant errand this morning as He left the house in which His mother dwelt with her sister, and Cleopas, and their children, and passed through the city to the shore of the lake. As He passed through the official quarter, He saw Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom. Possibly He had not seen him for a long time. In all likelihood Matthew had hitherto slipped out of His way. But now at last He sees him sitting at his post. What a Divine constraining power there must have been in the words of Him who spake as never man spake! As He looks at Matthew, He says simply, “Follow Me”; and His cousin, so hardened and degraded by his sins, rises, leaves all--his work for the moment, his official post and wage--and follows Him as though drawn by an irresistible power. Hitherto he had been called Levi, after the son of Jacob. And the word “Levi “ simply meant “link.” But Jesus had found and saved him; and He brings him back to the old home a new man with a new name. Henceforth Levi, now a true and strengthening link, is to be called Matthew, i.e., the gift of God; the very moment he rises to the level and meaning of his old name, a new name, a new ideal is given him. A true gift of God was this recovered son to the wounded and sorrowful hearts of his father and mother end brethren. Matthew, then, was the scapegrace of a holy family. Father, mother, brothers, sisters were ashamed of him. Yet even he was not beyond the reach and sway of Christ. (S. Cox, D. D.)

THE CALL OF MATTHEW.

“Arise and follow Me!”

Who answers to the call?

Not Ruler, Scribe, or Pharisee,

Proud and regardless all.

“Arise and follow Me!”

The publican hath heard;

And by the deep Gennesaret sea

Obeys the Master’s word.

Thenceforth in joy and fear,

Where’er the Saviour trod,

Among the twelve his place was near

The Holy One of God.

His is no honour mean,

For Christ to write and die;

Apostle, Saint, Evangelist,

His record is on high.

(Dean Alford.)

Following Christ

I. THE REALITY OF THIS CONVERSION proved by--

1. The change of occupation in obedience to Christ.

2. The sacrifice endured.

3. His identifying himself with Christ.

4. His concern for his fellow-men.

II. LET US TRY OURSELVES BY THESE TESTS.

1. What is Christ’s power over us?

2. What sacrifices are we making for Christ?

3. How do we identify ourselves with Christ?

4. What are we doing to bring others to Christ? (W. W.Patton, D. D.)

God calls busy men to do His grander work

God calls busy men to do His grander work. Moses, the shepherd; Shamgar and Elisha and Gideon, the farmers; James and John, Andrew and Peter, the fishermen; Matthew, the tax-collector; Luke, the physician, &c., &c. This same Jehovah-angel appears also to Joshua. The case of the Roman Cincinnatus, called by his people from the plough to be dictator of Rome, and saving it from the enemy, is also in point. Many of God’s most distinguished workmen have been called from scenes of the humblest labour. It was when toiling over a shoemaker’s bench that Carey’s soul was filled with a zeal for missionary labour. Yet he became one of the most successful missionaries of his age. By his labours a magnificent college was erected at Serampore, sixteen flourishing stations were established, the Bible translated into sixteen languages, and the seed sown of a moral revolution in India. Morrison, another laborious missionary, was once a maker of shoe-lasts. Henry Martyn’s father was a Cornwall miner. John Williams, of Erromanga, left the blacksmith’s shop to teach the is landers of the Pacific the way of life. Dr. Livingstone supported himself through a course of study by working in a cotton mill. (Teacher’s Storehouse.)

Following Christ fully

In the diary of the lamented Dr. Livingstone was found the following passage, written thirteen months before he died:--“ My own Jesus, my King! my life, my all I have given Thee; I dedicate my whole self to Thee. Accept me, O gracious Father, and grant that ere this year has gone I may finish my task. In Jesus’ name I ask it. Amen.” There is the key to the life of Dr. Livingstone.

The call of Matthew

I. CHRIST CALLS.

1. We cannot tell what preparation may have been previously made for this abrupt summons. If Matthew was son of the Alphaeus elsewhere named, then his connection with our Lord would account for it.

2. In any case we are sure that our Lord’s appeal was reasonable. Resting on grounds intelligible to St. Matthew.

3. The call involved sacrifice. He was following a lucrative calling, and he had to abandon it.

4. Our Lord’s calling is always substantially the same.

II. MATTHEW OBEYS. Mark the brevity, yet sufficient fulness, of the account given. This was all that was required of him, and he did it.

1. Great difficulties lay in his way.

2. Yet his obedience was ready and prompt.

III. THE REALITY OF HIS ADHESION TO CHRIST. This was shown--

1. By the evident sacrifice he made. An example to all who hear Christ’s voice, and follow Him. No royal road to perfection. Jesus by suffering conquered, and all who follow Him must enter into the spirit of sacrifice.

2. By his seeking for Christ’s communion. He “made Him a great feast.” (W. R. Clark, M. A.)

Matthew before, daring, and after his conversion

Matthew is of the number of those saints who, once living in sin, gained heaven by perfect repentance. As a true penitent he deserves our veneration, which we shall best exhibit by learning from his life what we should do, and what avoid, in order to gain heaven.

I. THE OCCUPATION OF MATTHEW BEFORE HIS CONVERSION.

1. The occupation of a money-changer, which is perilous.

2. The trade of a usurer, which is vicious.

3. The office of a toll-collector, which was odious.

II. THE SUPPER PREPARED BY MATTHEW FOR THE LORD.

1. The reasons for which he prepared it.

Jesus.

2. The reasons for which Jesus accepted the invitation to the supper.

3. The reasons for which the Pharisees grumbled, and reprimanded the disciples.

III. THE HONOURS OF ST. MATTHEW AFTER HIS CONVERSION.

1. He became an apostle.

2. An evangelist.

3. A martyr.

LESSONS.

1. Let sinners learn from St. Matthew conversion without delay.

2. Let the converted learn from him zeal.

3. Let the zealous learn from him perseverence. (Laselve.)

Great honour was put upon the simple work of the fisherman, and the keen pursuits of the custom-house, when Christ chose of fishermen and publicans to become His first disciples and His apostles. His parables, also, cast the same reflection of honour on all honest work. Let us then ask how our common business in warehouses and shops may bring glory to Christ.

I. IN BUSINESS MAY BE FOUND A SERVICE FOR CHRIST. May be found; but, alas! sometimes it is lost; often it is not even sought.

II. WE MUST NOT THINE TOO MUCH OF DAILY WORK, and set too great a price on it.

III. WE SHALL SEEK TO GIVE OF THE FRUITS OF OUR TRADING TO CHRIST. All we spend may be spent with express thought of Him; but to make full proof of our ministry, we shall seek for special expenditure in works of Christian philanthropy.

IV. WE SHALL BE WILLING TO GIVE UP, NOT ONLY THE FRUITS OF DAILY WORK, BUT DAILY WORE ITSELF, FOR CHRIST. It is not only to ministers that Christ says “Follow Me.” Others also are called to self-sacrifice. To say that business keeps me from Sunday-school teaching, or that business keeps me from visiting the sorrowful, and taking help to the needy, may not be a plea that ever covers neglect in the sight of our great Master, Christ. His word may be, “Then have less business. Follow Me.” It is possible that God calls one and another to make some sacrifice of apparent opportunities of making money, in order that there may be more time for spiritual service. Willingness to make sacrifice for Christ is essential to true discipleship. (T. Gascoigne, B. A.)

Matthew obeys Christ’s call

Some years ago I remember having my notice drawn by a little picture that hung in the window of an Oxford book-shop; it was a simple German lithograph, and it represented the call of Matthew. I do not know the name of the artist, but he seemed to me to have caught the whole spirit of the scene. In the centre was Matthew himself, eagerly leaving his booth, with treasures of untold money lying untouched on the counter for his helpers to reckon. Before the booth was the crowd of fishers and traders entering the seaside city, almost aghast at the sudden leaving of the business by one till then so strict in all his dealings with them, so ever ready to receive tribute. And just behind appeared a company of Christ’s disciples, not altogether unwondering at so ready a departure from all that wealth; half sorry for sacrifice so great; and yet half feeling, from what little they had learnt already of the Master, that He was worth the sacrifice. And in front was the Christ Himself, patient, tender, calling, waiting--the Lord of all, knowing calmly how life in the Father’s kingdom was worth any earthly sacrifice, that the Father could yet give to His own all they ever might have need of. (T. Gascoigne, B. A.)

Self-surrender

It is related in Roman history that when the people of Collatia stipulated about their surrender to the authority and protection of Rome, the question asked was, “Do you deliver up yourselves, the Collatine people, your city, your fields, your water, your bounds, your temples, your utensils, all things that are yours, both human and Divine, into the hands of the people of Rome?” And on their replying, “We deliver up all,” they were received. The voluntary surrender which you, Christian, have made to Christ is equally comprehensive; it embraces all you are, and have, and hope for. (H. G. Salter.)

Follow exactly

Two persons were walking together one very dark night, when one said to the other, who knew the road well, “I shall follow you, so as to be right.” He soon fell into a ditch, and accused the other with his fall. The other replied, “Then you did not follow me exactly, for I have kept free.” A side step had caused the fall. There is like danger in not following Christ fully.

On the calling of St. Matthew

I. WE ARE TO LEAVE ALL OUR EVIL PRACTICES THAT WE MAY FOLLOW CHRIST. We must relinquish our former iniquities altogether, and without reserve. Suppose that St. Matthew, when Christ commanded him to become His follower, had answered, that he would attend upon Christ occasionally, when his occupation afforded him leisure: and that for the future, when employed in collecting tribute, he would commit acts of extortion only seldom. Would Christ have accepted such service? You muse surrender yourselves entirely to Christ. You must follow Him wholly. You must follow Him alone. When you reserve some favourite sin for your occasional gratification; is that to leave all for the sake of Christ? No man can serve two masters.

II. WE MUST RENOUNCE, FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST, ALL OUR EVIL INCLINATIONS. This step is necessary to make repentance complete. St. Matthew not only relinquished his occupation, but abandoned it with gladness. You do not see him taking leave of his home with reluctance and sorrow. In conformity to this example every Christian is not merely to abstain, as by constraint, from sinful actions; but to glorify his God by cheerful obedience, and to bring his will under thankful subjection to his Redeemer. He is to be holy in thought, holy in heart, holy in his designs, holy in his wishes.

III. We, like St. Matthew, ARE TO RENOUNCE PRIVATE INTEREST, WHENEVER IT INTERFERES WITH OUR OBEDIENCE TO JESUS CHRIST. Behold a decisive proof of sincerity l He does not honour his Saviour with his lips only. He glorifies the Son of God by making large sacrifices for His sake; by immediately making every sacrifice which is required. He counts all things but loss that he may win the approbation of his Redeemer.

IV. We are to renounce our own righteousness; TO CAST AWAY ALL RELIANCE ON MERIT OF OUR OWN FOR ACCEPTANCE WITH GOD. Why did St. Matthew become a disciple of Jesus Christ? Why did he leave all to be with that man of sorrows? Because he beheld in that man of sorrows one who bare our griefs; one who bare the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. He recognized the appointed Saviour; the Lamb of God which took away the sins of the world.

V. We must, in the last place, FOLLOW OUR REDEEMER UNTO THE END. Such was the stedfastness of St. Matthew. He remained constantly with Christ until the evening before the crucifixion. On that evening he showed, in common with the other apostles, what man is, when the Divine grace withdraws itself, and leaves him to his native weakness. All the disciples of Christ forsook Him and fled. Of that guilty flight St. Matthew was a partaker. After the Resurrection, he received, in conjunction with the other apostles, pardon and strength from his forgiving Lord. When Jesus had ascended into heaven, we behold St. Matthew continuing closely in prayer and supplication with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and the brethren; and bearing his part as an apostle in the election of a successor to the traitor Judas. Boldly remaining at Jerusalem, when havoc was made of the Church after the martyrdom of Stephen, he proved that he was not of those who have no root, and in time of persecution fall away. And the early history of the Christian Church informs us that, in the face of danger and death, he persevered until the end of his days in preaching the gospel of his Lord. From every Christian patient continuance in well doing is indispensably required. (Thomas Gisborne.)

The duty of following Christ, as illustrated by the conduct of His disciples

But, in the event which succeeds, we have an instance of still greaterpower than that which is involved in the healing of any temporal disease. We find Him controlling not merely the elements of nature, as he had often done, or the circumstances which conduce to the health of our temporal frames, as in the instance of the paralytic man, but we find Him swaying the very elements of the mind and will, and proving that the moral and the intellectual powers of man are no less subject to His sovereign control. “After these things,” we are told, “He went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and lie said unto him, Follow Me.”

1. In the first place, the individual named Levi, who is spoken of by St. Luke, is said to have been a publican--a term which is explained in some degree, when it is mentioned that he was found “sitting at the receipt of custom.” It was thus that the name of publican became expressive, in their mind, of all that was abandoned and profane. There was nothing, for instance, in the character or condition of the individual before us to warrant his selection to this high and distinguished calling. There was no title existing in himself whereby he could claim it as peculiarly his own. He was a member of an obnoxious profession, and he was, so far as we know, unadorned with any lofty or brilliant attainments. We are not referring in the meantime to the condition of these men as poor and illiterate, and as affording from their original circumstances, as contrasted with the noble future discharge of their apostolic duties, a powerful argument for the truth and efficacy of our holy religion. We are referring to it simply as pointing out in the term, publican, in the present instance, and in the ideas which were usually associated with that term, the very condition in which by nature we are placed, and from which Christ is so willing to redeem us. Naturally, we say, there is nothing in any one of us to entitle us to selection on the part of Christ. On the contrary, there is everything that might lead Him to reject us, and dispose Him, in the purity of His character and the beauty of His own perfections, to pass us by as unworthy of His notice. In all our character and condition, naturally considered, and as seen in the light of His untainted holiness, there is nothing which His pure and omniscient eye can possibly desire. We are not engaged in His service. We are not contemplating His works. We are not endeavouring to ascend through the survey and admiration of these to the adoring contemplation of His excellence, or aspiring in the light of His perfections to have our natures assimilated to His. There is nothing of all this, when He comes to us on His errand of mercy, and calls upon us to follow Him as His disciples and His friends. We are engaged in the service of the world at that very time, intent, like the fishermen of Galilee, or the despised receiver of customs, on the affairs of a life which is only preparatory to another, but for which other we are not mindful or solicitous to prepare. Yes, my friends, we are either busied in the pursuit of some gainful and engrossing occupation, or we are sitting at destructive ease in the degradation of sin, reviewing our extending treasures, and yet thirsting to increase them. If active, we are not active in God’s service--if at ease, we are not at ease in Zion, or because we have sought peace and found it of the Lord. We repeat, then, that we are selected by Christ in the exercise of free and sovereign compassion. We are called to be disciples of His, not because we have loved Him, but because He has loved us.

2. The inclination or willingness to follow onward to know the Lord, is not occasioned by any exercise of our own powers, but is wrought in us by the operation of Christ’s own mighty power. But in Jesus there was nothing outwardly to distinguish Him. He was surrounded with no trappings of external dignity, no insignia of honour, no symbols of opulence or power. He was meek and lowly in His deportment--the reputed son of a carpenter; arrayed like the meanest of the people, and bearing in His aspect the suffering, yet subdued, expression of the man of sorrows. And yet He called the disciples, and they implicitly obeyed Him. No sooner did He issue the command than they hastened to fulfil it. He said to them, “ Follow Me,” and immediately they left all and followed Him. Now, we argue from this, that a great and decided change must have instantaneously passed upon their minds. The mere command of Jesus, considered apart from His divinity--considered apart from His power over the understanding and the heart, could never have produced this effect. We say, then, that the grace of God must have operated directly in this instance to the enlightenment of their minds, and the regulation of their wills. On no other principle can we account for the conduct they displayed. The Spirit of the Lord was with them, and at once they felt it to be their duty and their privilege to obey. They resembled the men who acknowledged Saul to be their king, when Samuel announced him to be the chosen of God to the throne of Israel, and when the children of Belial were despising and setting him at nought: they resembled these firm and devoted men, of whom it is said, in the expressive language of Scripture, “that when Saul went up to Gibeah, there went up with him likewise a baud of men, whose hearts God had touched.” In the case of the disciples, God also had touched and influenced their hearts.

3. We would remark, that when the Spirit of God does touch our hearts, and the power of Christ is thus made manifest in our lives, we are at once enlightened as to two things--the right of Jesus to command, and His worthiness as a King and Saviour to be obeyed. All this was exemplified in the conduct of the disciples. True, they had not at this time the most clear views of His character, or the most spiritual notions of the kingdom He was to establish, but still they saw, or rather felt enough, to convince them that Christ was worthy of their obedience and love; and, therefore, without a moment’s hesitation or reserve, they yielded the submission which He required, and determined to “follow Him whithersoever He went.” We admit, then, that they were not enlightened all at once, and that they were still imperfect as to their conceptions of Christ’s heavenly kingdom. But this is the way in which the Spirit of Divine grace in general acts upon the human understanding. He works in a gradual and progressive manner, disclosing more and more of the beauty of Christ, and of the loveliness of sacred truth, and shining inwardly upon the soul with somewhat of the brightening effulgence of that light of heaven, which rises at first with the faint dawnings of the eastern sky, until at last it opens and expands into the glorious lustre of the perfect day. But still the work of the Spirit leads us at once to exercise confidence in Christ. Now, the right which Christ has to the obedience of us all, is simply this: He has created us, and we are bound to serve Him; He has preserved us, and we are bound to honour Him; He has redeemed us, and we are bound to love Him. In every character and relation He is entitled to our love, and homage, and gratitude, and esteem. But superadded to this, there is now the powerful, the constraining tie of sovereign and redeeming love. In following Christ, my friends, we must follow Him to duty. When the Saviour issued His command to His disciples, there was before Him the chequered scene of His labours; and they, as the companions of His wanderings, had to go forth and mingle in the work. Again, my friends, we must follow the Saviour in the path of suffering. When Christ told His disciples to follow Him, He had yet before Him the scenes of His agony and death--the privations of His wanderings to feel, the hall of Pilate to encounter, the garden of Gethsemane to bear, the torture of the cross, in unmitigated anguish, to endure. And His disciples, whom He had called to follow Him, had likewise their griefs and sufferings to undergo. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” was the warning which He gave them. Not that the way of life is a dark and painful career, unsoothed by a single comfort, unalleviated by a single joy. The truth is, that the follower of Christ has joys which the world cannot understand, just as he has sorrows which it cannot share. He has a peace of mind which passeth knowledge, which rises far above the comprehension of the mere natural man; but then he has griefs which a stranger cannot interfere with. There is encouragement, however, the amplest and surest encouragement. Hear the language of Christ to His people: “I will make My grace to be sufficient for you; I will perfect My strength in your weakness; I will guide you by My counsel, and receive you to My glory.” (W. Maclure.)


Verse 29-30

Luke 5:29-30

And Levi made Him a great feast in his own house

Levi’s feast

Text shows our Lord a guest at a great feast at which a company of publicans and others sat down with Him.
Our Lord’s example applicable to us all. That which Christ did always, His servants cannot be justified if they never do--the mixing with others, neither for business nor yet for pleasure, but, in the largest sense of the word, for
charity.

1. It will then be seen how many persons there are who have need to be reminded of this duty.

2. One way of mixing with our brethren, in a manner most pleasing to Christ and useful to ourselves, is by holding frequent intercourse with the poor. (T. Arnold, D. D.)

Religions joy associated with common occasions

Some people are very much offended by the close connection of common joys with spiritual and religious events. “Keep religion by itself,” they say, “and let it be unmixed with any associations which may in the least tend to degrade it; and if you take pleasure, let it be wholly separated from religious occasions.” But the conduct of Christ is a perpetual witness to the fact that the most holy and momentous occurrence in our religious history may be associated with social enjoyment. The feast to which Christ was invited, and which He attended, was a feast which was given in connection with the choice and appointment of an apostle. The event is deserving of our attention inasmuch as it brings Christ before us in an aspect of His character which is often overlooked. We have looked to Him so much as the Christ who has gone away from the world that the simple gospel history of Christ in the world has been passed over by us, and we have almost felt that we were doing something wrong when we ascribed to Jesus Christ words and acts such as ordinary men would say and do. Yet here is the history to speak for itself--the record of One who, if He had been seen in our streets, and in our homes, might have been found living as we live, entering the dwellings of neighbours, with or without ceremony, speaking kindly to the old, the weak, the downcast, and being at home in the houses of rich and poor, Pharisee and publican, at the rich feast or the scant meal, and shedding around Him the fragrance of good feeling, and a genial warmth and light. And withal, here is the record of One, who, in all these simple and kindly courtesies, never forgot that it was the deepest cravings and wants in human nature which He had come to satisfy, and that His great mission was to bring men to God. (A. Watson, D. D.)

The conversion of Levi

I. JESUS BEHOLDING SINNERS. “Jesus saw a publican.” Jesus, brethren, sees all the sons of men. His eyes behold all classes. Christ saw Paul while, in his unconverted state, he was sitting at the feet of Gamaliel; and while he was afterwards occupied in persecuting the Christian Church; and He took not off His eyes from Paul till, in deep contrition and self-devotion, he cried out--“Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Christ saw the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well, long before she had any idea that Christ’s seeing her would issue in her salvation. Christ saw Zaccheus in the fig-tree before his conversion, and called him down to active service and eternal salvation. Christ saw Lydia of Thyatira, the seller of purple, long before she had any conception that her heart would be opened to hear the word spoken by St. Paul. But do not mistake my words. To prevent your conversion, Satan makes some of you imagine that, if you become religious, the Lord Jesus will wish you to neglect your proper callings. Far otherwise. He expects His people to be “ diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” But, when Jesus beholds sinners with the eye of His pity, He does so with a view to their salvation. This we shall see, while we state our second point.

II. JESUS CALLING SINNERS. Jesus said unto Levi, “Follow Me.” There are, you observe, brethren, two kinds of call. There is the general call, and there is the effectual call.

III. JESUS HONOURED BY SINNERS. It is the cry of every true believer--“What can I render unto the Lord for all His mercies? “This was the cry of Levi’s heart as soon as he was brought to a saving knowledge of his Redeemer. He was willing to do anything which would show his attachment to that Saviour, to whose love and mercy he was so much indebted. He, therefore, made for Jesus “a great feast,” “in his own house.” He then thought to show his respect for Christ by providing for Him a great entertainment; and, with a view to their spiritual benefit, he invited to it many of his old friends from among the publicans and his other companions. Now this, brethren, is one great proof of an effectual call. David, in his deep thankfulness for God’s sparing mercy, said to Araunah the Jebusite--“I will not offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing.” There are innumerable ways, brethren, in which we also can show our gratitude to Christ. Temporally and spiritually we can help Christ’s brethren; and of such acts He declares, “Ye have done it unto Me.” Those, therefore, of you who never make any sacrifice, either of your substance or your time, for Christ and Christ’s work, have reason at once to conclude that you have heard the Saviour call, but that thus far that call has been unheeded. It is a great trial to a really spiritual man to mix with the world at all, whether on festive or on other occasions. And as soon as such mixing with the world ceases to be a trial, mischief has been done. But we come now to notice a remarkable interruption in the feast, and this interruption gave our Lord the opportunity of stating--

IV. THE BLESSINGS IMPARTED BY THE GOSPEL. There never was any good done in this fallen world without some men objecting. When Nehemiah was building the walls of Jerusalem, “What do these feeble Jews?” was the taunt of Tobiah and Sanballat. And, what is more observable, the objection generally proceeds from those who ought to be the last to make it. The objection often comes from those who profess to be the spiritual guides of the people. Look at the case before us. Here was Levi making a feast for publicans and sinners, with Jesus among the guests, with a view to their spiritual profit. And who can object to such a proceeding? The civil and the ecclesiastical rulers of the day--“the scribes and Pharisees”--they object. They do not attack the Master; they attack the disciples. So is it now. Many objectors attack Christ’s servants, but they little imagine that, in so doing, they are attacking Christ. If, therefore, you are attacked, brethren, for your piety, remember that no one was more attacked than was Christ Himself. You may safely leave your cause with Jesus, as your faithful Creator. He will answer every objection, and you shall hold your peace. It was so here. The scribes and Pharisees murmured against the disciples, and said--“Why do ye eat with publicans and sinners?” To this question Jesus gave them a reply they little expected. He told them plainly, that was the object of His gospel. It was not meant for self-righteous formalists. It was meant for those who feel their guilt--for those who are sensible of their spiritual disease. I now add two other practical remarks. We see hence--

1. The freeness of salvation. Medicine is for the sick. Salvation is for sinners. In all diseases there are outward symptoms. That precious blood, which He shed for our sins on the cross, is a never-failing remedy. It makes crimson iniquities as white as snow. It cleanses sins as red as scarlet, till they become as wool.

2. The peril of a worldly spirit. (C. Clayton, M. A.)

Christ’s call

I. THIS CALM IS TO INDIVIDUALS.

1. TO repentance, i.e., to begin life again.

2. To a feast, and its joys.

II. THIS CALL WILT. BE SUCCESSFUL IF WE DESIRE IT.

1. Having susceptible hearts.

2. If poor in spirit.

3. If we hunger after righteousness, i.e., desire the feast.

III. How THE CALL IS MADE OF NONE EFFECT.

1. The worldly heart--pre-occupied--makes effectual calling impossible (Luke 14:16; Luk_14:20).

2. The “wise and prudent “do not like it (Matthew 11:25).

3. The stupid heart, wayside--no soil.

4. By levity. “They made light of it.” (F. B. Proctor, M. A.)


Verse 30

Luke 5:30

But the scribes and Pharisees murmur

The Friend of sinners

We cannot wonder at the scribes and Pharisees asking this question.
I think that we should most of us ask it now, if we saw the Lord Jesus going out of His way to eat and drink with publicans and sinners. Make merry with them He could not, but He certainly so behaved to them that they were glad to have Him among them, though He was so unlike them in thought, and word, and look, and action. And why? Because, though He was so unlike them in many things, He was like them at least in one thing. If He could do nothing else in common with them, He could at least eat and drink as they did, and eat and drink with them too. Yes. He was the Son of Man, the man of all men, and what He wanted to make them understand was that, fallen low as they were, they were men and women still, who were made at first in God’s likeness, and who could be redeemed back into God’s likeness again. The only way to do that was to begin with them in the very simplest way--to meet them on common human ground. Self-respect would begin to rise in those poor sinners’ hearts when our Lord came to them and ate and drank with them
. (Charles Kingsley.)

Practical sympathy

A city missionary was one day visiting one of the lowest and most degraded courts in London, and a woman said something like this to him:--“You say you care for us, and are anxious about us; but it is a very easy thing for you to come from your clean, quiet home just to visit us. Would you come and bring your family, and live in this court, expose yourself to all these evils day by day, in order to lift us up?” The missionary felt he had hardly enough love for that: but Jesus dwelt with sinners, ate and drank with them as well as died to save them. (Biblical Treasury.)

Sympathetic help

A Boston minister a short time ago had occasion to look up a very poor family, and climbed up four flights of stairs in a noisome tenement house on his errand. His tap at the door was answered by Dr. Phillips Brooks, with a baby in his arms. Inquiry revealed the fact that the woman had been very lit, and sorely needed fresh air, but had no one with whom to leave her little baby. Phillips Brooks found her out, gave her tickets for a tram-car ride, and was staying tending the baby while she enjoyed it. Only from a large heart filled with the spirit of Christ could such an act of real kindness have sprung. (American Paper.)

Frigid selfishness

A great poet has represented the souls of thoroughly selfish men as encased in ice, alternately shivering and benumbed, with only enough of life to be conscious of the surrounding all-pervading death. This supreme selfishness, or rather indifference--this insensibility to What is generous and lofty, this prudent self-complacent, self-indulgent regard for one’s own interests, is what our modern civilization, with its wonderful development of material wealth, has been drifting towards. And nothing can be more fatal to the highest interests and happiness of man. A splendid frost-work of society-sparkling like what we sometimes see around us after snow or rain on a winter’s day--as beautiful, but also as cold and as fatal to all spontaneous outgushing of warm and generous life. (J. H.Thompson.)

Christ in the company of social outcasts

The Jews and Egyptians, and indeed other peoples, were very scrupulous with whom they ate, much as are the Hindoos to the present day. It will be remembered that Joseph Genesis 43:32) ate with his brethren apart, and the Egyptians by themselves, for it was an abomination to the latter to eat with Hebrews. And so the old Tobias, during the Assyrian captivity, exhorted his son not to eat and drink with sinners. Christ, by sitting down to table with these despised and excommunicate publicans, add with heathen, broke through the caste rules, of which separation at table was the most conspicuous symbol. He showed that this holding aloof from others, whether it were national or individual, was contrary to the principles of the gospel, against the fundamental laws of His Church. (S. Baring-Gould, M. A.)

The Saviour and the publicans

This question was asked partly in ignorance and partly in ill-will. Our Lord would not leave to His simple and timid disciples the task of answering the critics. First, He rebukes with stern irony the self-righteousness of the questioners, and then He explains.

I. THE ANSWER SET FORTH THE GLORY OF OUR DIVINE SAVIOUR. “The Friend of sinners” is one of our Lord’s most glorious titles. God’s condescensions reveal His glory more completely than His magnificence.

1. The glory of His work-”To call Sinners to repentance.”

2. The glory of His character--‘, Which of you convinceth Me of sin?”

II. A COMMENT ON THE ACTION AND HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST. Like her Lord, the Church of Christ has entered into the life of sinful humanity to purify and elevate it. She may not cease to eat and drink with publicans and sinners.

III. SUGGESTIVE AS TO THE DUTY AND CONDUCT OF PRIVATE CHRISTIANS. In consorting with those who openly deny the truth of religion, or who live in flagrant violation of its precepts, there are two dangers to be guarded against.

1. We must keep clear of Pharisaism, that rank weed which so soon springs up in the souls of believers.

2. We must not voluntarily expose our souls to risks which are palpable and overwhelming, when no good can be done for the souls of others. Let us endeavour, when we arc thrown with others, be they who they may, to think of our Lord at Matthew’s feast, and pray Him for His gracious help that we too, sinners though we be, may speak a word in season to him that is weary. (Canon Liddon.)


Verse 31

Luke 5:31

They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick

The soul’s malady and cure

The occasion of the words is set down in the context; Levi was called from the receipt of custom (he was a customhouse man), but Christ called him, and there went out power with the word, “he left all, rose up, and followed Him.
” “Levi made Him a great feast in his own house”; a better guest he could not invite. Levi feasted Christ with his cheer, and Christ feasted him with salvation.

I. THE DYING PATIENTS. They that are sick. Whence observe--

Doct. 1. That sin is a soul-disease--“He hath borne our griefs”; in the Hebrew it is our sicknesses. Man at first was created in a healthful temper, he had no sickness of soul, he ailed nothing; the soul had its perfect beauty and glory. The eye was clear, the heart pare, the affections tuned with the finger of God into a most sweet harmony.

I. In what sense sin is resembled to sickness.

1. Sin may be compared to sickness for the manner of catching.

2. Sin may be resembled to sickness for the nature of it.

II. WHAT THE DISEASES OF THE SOUL ARE. Only I shall name some of the worst of these diseases. Pride is the tympany of the soul, lust is the fever, error the gangrene, unbelief the plague of the heart, hypocrisy the scurvy, hardness of heart the stone, anger the phrenzy, malice the wolf in the breast, covetousness the dropsy, spiritual sloth the green sickness, apostasy the epilepsy; here are eleven soul-diseases, and when they come to the full height they are dangerous, and most frequently prove mortal.

III. The third thing to be demonstrated is, THAT SIN IS THE WORST SICKNESS. To have a body full of plague sores is sad; but to have the soul, which is the more noble part, spotted with sin, and full of the tokens, is far worse; as appears.

1. The body may be diseased, and the conscience quiet: “the inhabitant of the land shall not say I am sick.” He should scarce feel his sickness, because sin was pardoned; but when the soul is sick of any reigning lust, the conscience is troubled--“There is no peace to the wicked, saith my God.”

2. A man may have bodily diseases, yet God may love him. “Asa was diseased in his feet.” He had the gout, yet a favourite with God.

3. Sickness, at worst, doth but separate from the society of friends; but this disease of sin, if not cured, separates from the society of God and angels.

2. If sin be a soul-sickness, then how foolish are they that hide their sins; it is folly to hide a disease!

3. If sin be a soul-sickness, then what need is there of the ministry? If sin be a soul-sickness, then do not feed this disease; he that is wise will avoid those things which will increase his disease; if he be feverish, he will avoid wine which would inflame the disease; if he have the stone he will avoid salt meats; he will forbear a dish he loves, because it is bad for his disease: why should not men be as wise for their souls? Thou that hast a drunken lust, do not feed it with wine; thou that hast a malicious last, do not feed it with revenge.

Doct. 2. That Jesus Christ is a soul-physician. Ministers (as was said before) are physicians whom Christ doth in His name delegate and send abroad into the world.

I. That Christ is a physician; it is one of His titles--“ I am the Lord that healeth thee.”

II. Why Christ is a physician.

1. In regard of His call; God the Father called Him to practise physic, He anointed Him to the work of healing--“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel: He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted.”

2. Jesus Christ undertook this healing work, because of that need we were in of a physician. Christ came to be our physician, not because we deserved Him, but because we needed Him; not our merit, but our misery, drew Christ from heaven.

3. Christ came as a physician out of the sweetness of His nature; He is like the good Samaritan, who had compassion on the wounded man. A physician may come to the patient only for gain; not so roach to help the patient as to help himself: but Christ came purely out of sympathy.

III. The third particular is, that Christ is the only physician--“Neither is there salvation in any other,” &c.

IV. How CHRIST HEALS HIS PATIENTS. There are four things in Christ that are healing.

1. His word is healing--“He sent His word, and healed them.”

2. Christ’s wounds are healing; “with His stripes we are healed.” Christ made a medicine of His own body and blood; the physician died to cure the patient.

3. Christ’s Spirit is healing; the blood of Christ heals the guilt of sin; the Spirit of Christ heals the pollution of sin.

But if Christ be a physician, why are not all healed?

1. Because all do not know they are sick; they see not the sores and ulcers of their souls; and will Christ cure them who see no need of Him?

2. All are not healed, because they love their sickness--“Thou lovest evil”; many men hug their disease.

3. All are not healed, because they do not look out after a physician.

4. All are not healed, because they do not take the physic which Christ prescribes them; they would be cured, but they are loath to put themselves into a course of physic.

5. All are not healed, because they have not confidence in their physician; it is observable when Christ came to work any cure, He first put this question, “ Believe ye that I am able to do this?” Millions die of their disease, because they do not believe in their physician.

V. The fifth and last particular is, THAT CHRIST IS THE BEST PHYSICIAN. That I may set forth the praise and honour of Jesus Christ, I shall show you wherein He excels other physicians; no physician like Christ.

1. He is the most skilful physician; there no disease too hard for Him--“Who healeth all thy diseases.”

2. Christ is the best physician, because He cures the better part, the soul; other physicians can cure the liver or spleen, Christ cures the heart; they can cure the blood when it is tainted, Christ cures the conscience when it is defiled; “How much more shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience from dead works?”

3. Christ is the best physician, for He causeth us to feel our disease.

4. Christ shows more love to His patients than any physician besides.

5. Christ is the most cheap physician.

6. Christ heals with more ease than any other: other physicians apply pills, potions, bleeding; Christ cures with more facility. Christ made the devil go out with a word.

7. Christ is the most tender-hearted physician. He hath ended His passion, yet not His compassion.

8. Christ never fails of success.

9. Christ cures not only our diseases, but our deformities. The physician can make the sick man well; but if he be deformed, he cannot make him fair. Christ gives not only health, but beauty. Sin hath made us ugly and misshapen.

10. And lastly, Christ is the most bountiful physician. Other patients do enrich their physicians, but here the physician doth enrich the patient. Christ prefers all His patients; He doth not only cure them, but crown them. Christ cloth not only raise from the bed, but to the throne; He gives the sick man not only health, but heaven. But mine is an old inveterate disease, and I fear it is incurable. Though thy disease be chronical, Christ can heal it. But after I have been healed, my disease hath broken out again; I have relapsed into the same sin; therefore, I fear there is no healing for me. It is rare that the Lord leaves his children to these relapses. If Jesus Christ be a spiritual physician, let us labour to hasten the cure of our souls. Consider

I. CHRIST IS MOST CONCERNED WITH THOSE WHO NEED HIM MOST.

The sick need the physician

II. SICKNESS OF SOUL IS THE NEED WHICH CALLS FOR CHRIST AS THE GOOD PHYSICIAN.

III. IT IS NECESSARY FOR A MAN TO CONFESS HIS SICKNESS OF SOUP. BEFORE HE CAN BE HEALED BY CHRIST. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

We have recently been told that there are no less than 1088 definite forms of disease to which our mortal bodies are liable. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

The moral disease of humanity

I. THERE IS A MORAL DISEASE IN THE HEART AND CHARACTER OF MAN.

1. Depraved mental appetite.

2. The faculty of vision is impaired.

3. Moral stupor and lethargic disposition of mind.

4. Feverish excitement of disposition.

5. Moral weakness and want of activity.

II. THE PECULIAR CHARACTERISTICS BY WHICH THIS MORAL DISEASE IS DISTINGUISHED.

1. It is universal in extent.

2. It is inherent in our constitution.

3. It is disastrous in its results.

4. It is incurable by anything less than Divine agency.

III. THE REMEDY PROPOSED FOR HEALING THIS DISEASE the healing medicine of the gospel.

1. Universally adapted.

2. Absolutely free.

3. Infallibly efficacious. (W. Urwick.)

The art of healing

That the sick need a physician is an assertion which appeals to the dictates of common sense.

1. The ministrations of the art of healing are a beautiful imitation of those of Divine providence. Both are designed to restore what was lost, and to repair what is disordered.

2. How striking is the contrast between the art of medicine and the art of war.

3. The erection of hospitals and infirmaries for the poor is one of the distinguishing ornaments and fruits of Christianity, unknown to the wisdom and humanity of pagan times. (R. Hall, A. M.)

Christianity a remedy for all diseases

The gospel is not meant for the salvation of men who are so good that they hardly seem to need it, but for men that are bad--for the very worst of men. Admit all that can be said of the badness of the Chinese; admit the blackest portrait that can be correctly painted of them; admit that they are as bad as men can be out of hell--if I understand the matter rightly, you only make out a stronger case for sending them the gospel of Christ. There is a story told of a vendor of quack medicine, who sent out an advertisement to one of the Australian newspapers, and after enumerating all the diseases of which he could think, he added, “If there be any disease peculiar to the colony, put that in, for my medicine will cure that too.” A statement that was not true of the quack medicine we can apply to the gospel of Christ. If there be any wickedness peculiar to the Chinese; if they are the worst specimens of humanity; if human depravity has assumed a type there which it does not present in any other part of the world, put all these in, for the gospel will cure them too. It is a remedy for all diseases, even the worst. (W. Landels.)

Eagerness to find the Great -Physician

Years ago, the bargemen who were associated with the coal mines on the River Ruhr, in Germany, were regarded as uncivilized and wicked beyond reclamation; but on one occasion a religious awakening broke out among them which astonished all who beheld its varied and striking phenomena. There was one man more particularly whose name of Wolf suggested only a few of the traits of his character: for a savage beast of the forest would have used its offspring better than this man used his household. To crown all, he was a drunkard, and no wolf could ever be charged with that abomination. Though too illiterate to read, the man still came under the influence which was abroad, and conscience smote him on account of past iniquities, until life was almost unendurable. In a state of despondency he went to a relative who was a Christian man, who after listening a while, remarked, “I know a Physician who can cure you.” “Where does he live?” cried Wolf, in extreme eagerness, “I would gladly walk ten miles this night to find him.” The only reply to this was to preach Christ as the Great Physician, who saves from the effects of sin. When the penitent returned home he prayed long and earnestly, until his agony of mind was relieved, and he found peace. His appearance among his companions in labour struck them all with surprise. Instead of beating his wife, he became instrumental in her conversion, while the earnest power with which he preached Christ among the workers on coal barges was viewed with astonishment. Dr. Pinkerton, who sent home the particulars, remarked, “the Holy Spirit confirmed his testimony. The holy fire spread from boat to boat; drunkards, thieves, and abandoned characters were made penitent.” Hundreds were converted, and houses which had been given up to riot and squalor became clean and attractive--the abodes of peace and love. (Sword and Trowel.)

Conviction of sin necessary to a just sense of God’s grace in salvation

In multitudes of cases, they are entirely insensible of the malady that is preying upon them and hastening to its fatal issue in the death of the soul. And so long as they entertain this opinion of themselves, or remain insensible to their real condition as perishing in sin, it is plain that they cannot feel their need of the remedy provided for them in the gospel, and will not apply to the Divine Physician for the healing of their souls, or their recovery to spiritual health. Let us illustrate this point in a few particulars. And--

1. I remark--those who feel themselves to be whole, in the sense of our text, can have no sincerity or earnestness in using the means of spiritual recovery. A man who is in doubt whether he is sick or well, will of course hesitate whether he shall ask advice of a physician, and after having asked it, he will show the same indecision and hesitancy in regard to taking the medicine prescribed by him.

2. While a man feels himself to be whole he can of course have no true conviction of sin.

3. While a man imagines himself to be whole, he cannot feel his need of mercy, and of course cannot ask for nor receive it as it is offered him in the gospel.

4. While a man feels himself to be whole, he cannot receive Christ as his Saviour, nor acceptably apply to Him for any one blessing of His mediation.

5. That while a man imagines himself to be whole he can have no real, abiding gratitude for redeeming mercy, even should he flatter himself that he has embraced Christ as his Saviour.

In conclusion, I am led to remark--

1. We see in view of our subject who they are that are in the greatest danger of being lost.

2. We see the necessity of preaching the law. By the law is the knowledge of sin.

3. We see why there is so little of deep and fruitful religion in many who profess to be Christians. They are wanting in a deep and abiding sense of the great evil of sin, and of their infinite indebtedness to the mercy of God in Christ in delivering them from the wrath to come.

4. We see why it is so difficult to persuade impenitent men to accept the salvation of the gospel. It is because they do not feel their need of such a salvation. (J. Hawes, D. D.)

The Physician of souls

The text hath three parts.

1. The patients.

2. The Physician.

3. The cure.

I. THE PATIENTS ARE PROPOUNDED NEGATIVELY--“not the whole.” Affirmatively--“but the sick.” Is any man whole?

1. No man is whole by nature; in Adam all are deadly sick.

2. Some are whole in conceit only. And another cause of conceited soundness is the extenuation of sin. Let this therefore serve to convince these whole men, and let them see their estate, so as they may seek to the Physician, and not die senseless.

The marks and spots of a deadly disease are these:

1. An ill stomach argueth bodily disease; so spiritual, if the Word be bitter, if thy mind rise against it, and the mouth of thy soul be out of taste, if thy memory keep not the doctrine of God, if by meditation thou digestest it not, and so sendest it into all parts of thy life, thou art sick indeed, though thou seemest never so whole.

2. When the body consumeth, the parts are weakened, the knees bow under a man, and with much ado he draggeth his limbs after him, there is certainly a bodily disease, though there be no complaint. So in the soul; when men are weak to deeds of piety, have no strength to conquer temptation, to suffer crosses and trials; to works of charity, mercy, or justice; but all strength of grace seems to be exhausted, here is a dangerous disease.

3. When the senses fail, the eyes grow dim, the ears dull, it is an apparent sign of a bodily or spiritual disease. A senseless is the sickest man, because he is sick though he be not sensible. Even so, when the eye-strings of the soul are broken, that they see not the light of grace, nor of God, which as the sun shines round about them; the ears hear not the voice of God, the feeling is gone, they have no sense of the great gashes and wounds of the lusts of uncleanness, drunkenness, covetousness, swearing, lying, malice against God and His servants; nay, no complaint, but rather rejoicing in these; the soul of such a man lies very weak, as a man for whom the bell is ready to toll.

4. Difficulty of breathing, or to be taken speechless, is a sign of a disease and death approaching. So in the soul, prayer being the breath of the soul, when a man can hardly fetch his breath, cannot pray, or with much ado can beg mercy, strength, and supply of grace; or when he is speechless, a man cannot hear him whisper a good and savoury word, but all is earthly, fruitless, or hurtful; here is a living corpse, a painted sepulchre, not a man of a better world. Thus negatively of the patient, or party, fit for cure. Affirmatively it is the sick man. And he is the sick man, that feels and groans under the pain and burden of his sin. The point this: Sin is the most dangerous sickness in the whole world, and fitly resembles bodily sickness.

For--

1. Sickness comes by intemperance: the temperate body is never sick; while we were in innocency we were in sound health, but through distemperature in our nature we were poisoned at first, and ever since our sins and lusts conceiving, bring forth sin and death.

2. Sickness weakeneth the body, and impaireth the vigour of nature; so cloth sin in the soul: experience showeth that after some sin we very hardly and weakly attempt any good thing for a long time. Sin hath weakened the faculties, darkened the understanding, corrupted the will, disordered the affections: thence this sickness.

3. Sickness brings pain and torment into the body; so doth sin into the soul.

4. Sickness continuing and lingering on the body, threateneth death, and without timely cure bringeth it; sin also, not removed by repentance, menaceth and bringeth certain death to body and soul.

5. Sickness is generally incident to all men. So the souls of all men are diseased by nature; even the souls of the elect, till they be healed by Christ.

II. WE COME NOW TO THE PHYSICIAN. The Physician is our Lord Jesus Christ; as in the next word, “I come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” “I am the Lord, that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26). God challengeth this as a part of His own glory, by Christ to heal us. “He maketh sore, and bindeth up; He woundeth, and His hands make whole” Job 5:18). “Who healed thee of thy infirmities?” (Psalms 103:3).

1. As a skilful Physician He knoweth every man s estate perfectly. He knoweth what is man (John 2:1-25.), so doth no other physician. He saw the woman at the well to be an harlot. And (Matthew 16:7) He saw the reasoning of their hearts, when they thought He spake because they had no bread.

2. He knows the cure as perfectly as He cloth the disease. No physician knows all the virtues of all the simples and drugs he administereth; and besides, he is wholly ignorant of many. But Christ our Physician knows the infallible work of His remedies.

3. As a skilful Physician He prescribeth the fittest remedies. For in His word He appointeth physic for every disease of the soul; for pride, envy, covetousness, trouble of conscience, and other.

4. As a physician prepareth his patient for his physic, so Christ prepareth the party by faith to apply His remedies; by persuading the heart to believe, and to apply to the sore and wounded conscience the precious balms which Himself hath prepared. Else, as physic, not in the receipt, or box, or cupboard, or pocket can profit, unless it be applied and received, though it be never so sovereign; no more can this.

5. Christ goeth beyond all physicians, two ways.

1. He is a skilful doctor, He knows all our diseases and the remedies; thou mayst safely commit thyself into His hands, as His mother said to those servants, “Whatsoever He commands, that do” (John 2:1-25.). Simple obedience is required, without reasoning or inquiry. All His sayings must we do.

2. He is able enough to cure us, because He is God Omnipotent, able to work an infinite cure: and only such a physician can bestead us, for all created power cannot help us.

3. He is as willing to help as able; being a merciful High Priest, compassed with infirmities, to have compassion on them that are out of the way.

III. Having spoken of the patients, and of the Physician, we come now to the CURE, which is the third general; wherein consider--

1. The confection.

2. The application.

In the confection are--

1. The Author.

2. The matter.

3. The virtue.

The Author must be a man, and above a man. He must be a man, because man had sinned, and man’s nature must satisfy; else God’s justice and menace had not taken place. But withal, He must be above a man; even our Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14), God with us. All this must our Physician do,by His lowest abasement. He must satisfy God’s justice, appease His anger, triumph against enemies of salvation, subdue sin, foil the devil, overcome death, discharge all debts, cancel all obligations and handwritings against us, and after all be exalted to glory. Thirdly, He must be God to procure us those infinite good things we need, viz., to restore us God’s image lost, and with it righteousness and life eternal. To defend soul and body against the world, the devil, hell, and all enemies. Next, the matter of the cure, and that is, “the Physician’s own blood” by which is meant His whole passion: “By His stripes we are healed (1 Peter 2:19), His sickness brings us health. Next the virtue and preciousness of this cure. Oh, it was a powerful and precious blood I and that in five respects.

1. In respect of the qualtity: it is the blood incorruptible. All other diseases are cured with corruptible things (1 Peter 1:18).

2. In respect of the person: it was the blood of God (Acts 20:28).

3. In respect of the subject of it: no other cure or remedy can reach the soul. All other drugs conduce for healthful life, and work upon the body; but this makes for an holy life, and works upon the soul, the sickness whereof the most precious thing in the world cannot cure.

4. In respect of the powerful effects of it, above all other cures in the world: for--

5. In respect of time. All other physic is made of drugs created with the world, but this was “prepared before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:18). Again, all work of all other physic is done in death, but the perfection and most powerful work of this is after death. By all this take we notice of our extreme misery by sin; seeing nothing else can cure us, but the blood of the Son of God. If we had such a disease as nothing but the heart-blood of our dearest friends alive (suppose our wife, husband, mother, or child) could cure us, what a hopeless and desperate case were it? It would amaze and astonish the stoutest heart. But much more may it smite our hearts, that we have such a disease as nothing else but the heart-blood of the Son of God can cure. But those never saw their sin in this glass who conceive the cure as easy as the turning of a hand, a light “Lord have mercy,” or an hour of repentance at death.

2. In this cure we may observe a world of wonders--

3. How may we testify our love to Christ?

1. The persons to whom the cure is applied.

2. The means whereby.

3. The time when.

For the persons, the text saith, “all that be sick”; that is, sensible and languishing under their sickness. And Psalms 147:3, “He heals those that are broken in heart, and binds up their sores.” For the means whereby the cure is applied, it is faiths, we must bring faith to be healed. But when is this medicine applied? For time, there is no application but in this life; no curing after this life. Again, seeing there is a time to heal, come in season Ecclesiastes 3:3). Again, content not thyself only to hear of this remedy, but seek to know that it is applied to thee in particular, and to feel the virtue of it in thyself. How may I know it? As physic taken into the body works often so painfully, that men are even at the gate of death in their present sense, and no other but dead men, so this physic worketh kindly, when it worketh pain in the party, through the sense and sight of sin, apprehension of God’s anger and utter despair in themselves. As physic kindly working delivers the party, not only from death, but such humours as were the cause of his sickness, at least that they be not predominant; even so must this physic rid us of our sin, and these peccant humours which were the matter of our sickness. As after application of proper physic we find a great change in our bodies, as if we had new bodies given us; so after the kindly work of this physic we may find ourselves cast into a new mould; this blood applied makes us new creatures, new men, having new minds, new wills, new words, new affections, new actions, new conversations. Our strength is renewed to Christian actions and passion; we are strong for our journey, for our combat, and strong to carry burdens, with a strong appetite, and digestion of the word; every way more hearty and cheerful. Thus having received our health, by means of this cure, wisdom commands us to be as careful to preserve our health as to attain it. Every wise man will be as careful to keep himself well as to get himself well. And to this purpose, we must remember the counsel of our Physician for maintaining our health attained. Among many direction prescribed, I mention four.

1. Not to be tampering with our own medicines, nor the medicines of Egypt, merits, pilgrimages, penance, or the like; nor any quintessence or mineral from the hand of any libertine teacher; but only such as we find prescribed in the Word of God, by our great Doctor.

2. To keep our health, we must keep good diet, both for soul and body. The best diet for the soul is to keep God’s hours for our daily repast by the Word, in reading and meditating on it; which David regarded above his ordinary food. A liberal diet is best for the soul; but the best diet for the body is a spare diet, a sober and moderate use of meat, drink, and pleasure, for beating down and mortifying corrupt affections and lusts.

3. To preserve our health, we must strive to live in a good and wholesome air. If thou livest in a corrupt air, change it for a better. The worst air that can be is where worst men and worst company are. The air of a hot plague house is not so infectious as the contagious air of wicked company.

4. To preserve health, physicians prescribe the use of good exercises. The best exercises to use for the health of the soul are hearing and reading of God’s Word; pray also, and meditate when thou art alone; with conference of good things in company. These are notable helps to bring thee through weaknesses, and keep thy soul in good plight, health, and cheerfulness. (T. Taylor. D. D.)

Christ the Physician of men

The grand design of Christ’s mission into the world was that He might be the Physician of souls--that He might heal those who were subject to the disease of sin, and restore them to spiritual health, life, and happiness.

I. OUR LORD WAS DIVINELY AUTHORIZED AND APPOINTED TO THIS IMPORTANT OFFICE.

II. CHRIST, AS THE GREAT PHYSICIAN OF SOULS, HAS PROVIDED A REMEDY OF TRANSCENDENT EFFICACY.

III. OUR HEAVENLY PHYSICIAN IS POSSESSED OF INFINITE SKILL. His understanding is infinite. He perfectly knoweth our frame. He knows all the distempers of our minds, with all their diversified forms and symptoms.

IV. THE PHYSICIAN OF SOULS IS POSSESSED OF INFINITE POWER AND COMPASSION. If with one hand He extends to us a bitter potion, with the other He upholds, strengthens, comforts us.

V. HE IS GENEROUS AND DISINTERESTED. He seeks not ours, but us. His sole object is to do us good.

VI. HE IS ALWAYS ACCESSIBLE. NO disadvantage of place or condition can exclude from His aid. Nor is there a single individual who may not, on every occasion, obtain from Him the healing that he needs. (Peter Grant.)


Verse 32

Luke 5:32

I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance

The Sin healer

This conduct of Christ was not official or symbolic.
It was His feeling as very God that led Him to this course. It opened to the world the very Divine nature. A disposition to heal men of sin is a greater manifestation of Divine rectitude than to exterminate sin by punishment. It is this thought that I shall attempt to draw out briefly, and apply to our own case and experience.

I. To HEAR SIN EVINCES HATRED OF EVIL EVEN MORE THAN A SUMMARY PUNISHMENT OF IT. Consider the patience, the self-sacrifice, which is required to win men from evil habits, and from wicked dispositions. Now we measure our moral likes or dislikes by what they lead us to undergo. How much we love we can tell by how much we will bear for our affections; how much we dislike, by what effort we are willing to put forth to resist or avoid what is offensive to us. Consider a teacher who shall avenge himself of a pupil’s disobedience by punishing, or by summarily excluding that pupil. How cheap is such riddance of mischief from his school! How is all summed up in one outburst of feeling! It is very painful and disagreeable, but it is short. But suppose that, instead of resorting to expulsion, with its disgrace, the teacher shall enter into the sympathy of the pupil by gentleness, by winning kindness, by forbearance, by devoting his very life to him, and shall set him upon reformation, and wait for him to reform, and endure while he is reforming. How much more does he, by such a course of conduct as this, evince his dislike of evil, than by merely excluding the pupil! What we will bear for the sake of getting rid of evil, measures how much we dislike it.

II. A DISPOSITION TO HEAL SIN IS THE CLEAREST POSSIBLE EXPOSITOR OF MORAL RECTITUDE. Men do not always see it to be so. It is a part of our lower thinking to believe that a thunderous exhibition, with a display of wrath and punitive judgment, is a more solemn and conclusive manifestation of the Divine abhorrence of sin. But an abhorrence of sin is more illustriously marked by gentleness and patience in healing it, than by any display of justice in punishing it. He that once conceives of the God that presides over the universe, and keeps all its elements intact and unharmed, as a God that makes Himself the medicine for those that are led away from purity, and becomes Himself the Saviour of sinners--he that once does this has a conception of rectitude in God, and of the Divine hatred of evil, such as he can get in no other way.

III. A DISPOSITION TO HEAL SIN DOES NOT TAKE AWAY FROM SIN ANY OF ITS DANGERS. It removes no barriers, and yields no encouragements. There are ways of dealing with evil that lead to the presumption that it is safe to sin because there is a chance for recovery, if harm begins to come upon the sinner; but the way in which Christ dealt with evil led to no such presumption. Where men fall into sickness by their excesses, is the tenderness on the part of the nurse an argument for the repetition of those excesses. The care and the kindness of a parent in restoring a son from downfall are never a reason with a grateful son for falling again. And the grace of God in Christ Jesus, that bears With sin, not because it is to be allowed, but because, being hateful. God addresses the whole energy of His Being and administration to the rescue of men from it-this does not take away anything from the fear of sin, nor furnish motives to transgression.

IV. On the part of those who Ere healed, A DISPOSITION TO HEAL SIN PRODUCES A GENEROUS REPENTANCE, WHICH GROWS OUT OF THE NOBLER SENTIMENTS OF THE MIND, and which is therefore a true repentance--one that does not need to be repented of. It is no longer fear of consequences, nor even self-condemnation or conscience, that inspires reformation; it is an action of gratitude; a work of love.

V. SUCH A DISPOSITION PRESENTS THE DIVINE CHARACTER IN A LIGHT WHICH TENDS TO UNIVERSAL ADMIRATION AND UNIVERSAL CONFIDENCE. It takes nothing away from the essential authority and monarchy of God; but it brings God into vital sympathetic relations to His creatures--especially where the remedy has been wrought out at the expense of His own life. The spectacle of a God that is clothed with a spirit of justice made firm in the administration of a righteous government, and of one that, loving justice, still finds rescue and release for the transgressor through the interposition of His own self--that spectacle is one that cannot but fill the heart of every pure and noble creature with admiration and confidence and love. God, by the very pains with which He sought to cleanse the heart and the conscience, testified to how dangerous was that sin that had disfigured the conscience and soiled the heart. With this brief statement, I remark--

1. There is great encouragement for men that have given way to temptation and transgression, to turn back from evil, to repent, and to enter upon a course of right-living. One of the most wonderful of doctrines was the declaration of Christ that a man might be born again; not merely that he must be--which it true, if he would see the kingdom of heaven--but that he might be; that a man who had for years and years gone wrong, might, as it were, go back and call all the past nothing, and start over again. What would men give if they could do this in their secular affairs t Only God is on the side of the man that wants to return to the path of holiness. There is no parallel to the Divine helpfulness towards the erring anywhere out of the family. When men in secular relations and social connections have done wrong, nothing is on their side--everything is against them. The influences of this world tend to hold a man up in the beginning.

2. This exhibition of God in healing sin instead of punishing it, is the model for Christian dispositions. We must have the Spirit of Christ, or we are none of His. The mother that watches over her child, and that, seeing its faults, not so much punishes it as trains it out of those faults, devoting her life, day and night, to its welfare; the mother that wins her child out of evil into good--that mother stands as the child’s saviour, reproducing the example and conduct of Christ towards her little one. Arc there those round about you that need succour and help: Have you done some things for them?

3. What will be the glorious disclosure of this Divine nature in heaven--the lovableness of God, the attractive beauty that there is in Him, so disclosed by the Saviour! (H. W. Beecher.)

Self-righteousness giving way to penitence

The man who thinks he is not so very bad, is no true penitent. “I am the chief of sinners,” said holy Paul, and that is sure to be the feeling of the man who is truly penitent. A good Quaker told me once how he visited a sick neighbour, and began to talk to the man about soul-matters. Religion was all very good, the poor sick man acknowledged, but he could not see what need he had to concern himself abort it, for he had never done anybody any harm in his life. The good Quaker tried to convince him that he had lived without hope and without God in the world, and that he was not fit to die; that he had neither prayed nor worshipped, nor read his Bible, nor trained up his children in the fear of God, and he ought to feel himself a sinner in the sight of his Maker. The good Quaker knelt and prayed with him, and visited him again and again, and began to observe that the man gradually forgot to boast of his innocence; and, at last, seemed to be growing very tender, for he observed him in tears. At last he could conceal his state no longer, but burst out into weeping--“I am too great a sinner,” said he; “there is no mercy for me!” “Thank God!” said the good Quaker, “I have hope of thee now. Let us pray once more, and see if there be no mercy for thee.” The Quaker prayed, and the poor sinner prayed; and before they gave over, the sinner’s soul was set free, and he rejoiced in the pardoning love of God. (Thomas Cooper.)

Christ’s errand

I. WHAT IS THE PURPORT OF CHRIST’S COMING INTO AND WORK IN TEE WORLD AS ANNOUNCED IN THE SCRIPTURES GENERALLY? Universal and all-inclusive. The world. Whosoever.

II. HERE, HOWEVER, AN APPARENT LIMITATION. Some whom He did not come to call: the righteous. Who were these righteous? Wee e they really righteous? No, but only self-righteous.

III. ARE THERE, THEN, ANY WHOM CHRIST DID NOT COME TO SAVE? NO. But so long as a man is self-righteous he is not saveable, he cannot hear and obey the call of Christ. Christ’s errand is to the needy and the sinful. Let the self-righteous become conscious of his unrighteousness and sinfulness, and he becomes at once one of those whom Christ came to call. For--

IV. IN COMING TO CALL SINNERS HE TRULY CAME TO CALL ALL, for all are sinners. And thus is the apparent limitation, so far as His desire and purpose are concerned, shown not really to exist. He will have all men to be saved and to tome to a knowledge of the truth. (J. B. Bailey.)

Criminality certainly appeared to Christ more odious and detestable than it did to His contemporaries. How strange, then, to find Him treating it more leniently I perfect justice here appears to take the very course which would be taken by injustice. It is true that the extremes do in a manner meet. Christ, representing the highest humanity, treats crime in a manner which superficially resembles the treatment of it by those in whom humanity is at the lowest stage. But the other toleration was barbarous. Christ’s toleration is the newly-revealed virtue of mercy. (Ecce Homo.)

There are two classes of men--the righteous who believe themselves sinners; and sinners who believe themselves righteous. (Pascal.)


Verse 33-34

Luke 5:33-34

And they said unto Him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers?
--

Christian mutual tolerance

The whole passage illustrates the breadth and tolerance of our Lord’s teaching. He is claiming for His disciples that their spiritual life be left to unfold itself naturally, that they be not fettered by forms, that they be not judged by religious traditions and old habits, that they be free to show themselves glad when they have cause of gladness, and that their expressions of sorrow and their self-discipline follow their feeling of sorrow and their need of discipline. He adds also a plea for the sincere among the Pharisees and John’s disciples; He tells His own followers that they must be tolerant of these. No man accustomed to old wine will readily relish new. These parables have a perpetual application. They affirm the propriety of all forms of religious life that are the true outcome of spiritual experience, and they plead for consideration of one another in the differences which perpetually arise between Christians of varying experience and habitude.

I. CHRIST’S VINDICATION OF FREEDOM TO ALL HIS DISCIPLES.

II. CHRIST’S PLEA FOR CONSIDERATION OF ONE ANOTHER. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

Wisdom justified of her children

The outward religious life of Christ differed from that of John. One was social, the other ascetic. To the astonish ment created by this difference among worldly people and Pharisees, Jesus voucheared no reply but “wisdom is justified of her children.” Once, however, He did condescend to explain the difference between His life and the life of John. And the reply goes deep into the grounds of a religious life.

I. THE REASONS FOR THE ASTONISHMENT WHICH CAUSED THE QUESTION,

1. The Divine life was social, whereas the popular conceptions of religious life are drawn naturally from those evidences which are most visible, fasting and prayers.

2. There is a tendency in disciples to copy and idolize the peculiarities of a master. Matthew tells us that it was John’s disciples who put the question of the text.

3. The indifference of Christ to ascetic forms astonished, because there is a real influence in asceticism. The principle of Christianity is from within outwards. The ascetic principle reverses this.

II. THE REASONS FOR WHICH JESUS DID NOT IMPOSE THE ASCETIC LIFE ON HIS DISCIPLES.

1. Because it is unnatural “Can the children of the bridechamber mourn?” &c.

2. Because of the results. The result of the forcing system is twofold:

Privileges as well as duties to be attended to

When Dr. John Mason Good, the distinguished and excellent author of the “Book of Nature,” was on his death-bed he said, “I have taken what unfortunately the generality of Christians too much take. I have taken the middle walk of Christianity. I have endeavoured to live up to its duties and doctrines, but I have lived below its privileges.” Is not this, alas l but too true of the great body of those of us who call ourselves Christians, and who may indeed be so? Are we not living below the spirituality, and of course without the enjoyment, which God designs for His children, and so without the example and usefulness that should mark the life of every Christian? Far better, with Whitefield, to pray that he might be “an extraordinary Christian,” and to endeavour, by God’s grace, so to live as to be an example to all of a true and living Christianity.


Verses 33-38

Luke 5:33-38

No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old

The patched garment

We appreciate easily the offensiveness of what is incongruous.
It is fatal alike to beauty, to symmetry, and to effectiveness. A sparrow is not as beautiful as a bird of Paradise, yet the little brown bird is a pleasant sight. Try to fasten upon him the gorgeous plumage of the other bird, and you make him ridiculous at once. His beauty consists in being simply himself. An inferior thing that is constant to its own ideal, consistent, true, is a far more useful and a far more pleasurable thing than when you try to make it look like something else, or do the work of something else, or take it out of its place and put it in circumstances to which it has no adaptation. Take a plain stone wall, for instance. There is nothing very artistic about it, but if it be well and truly built, a simple wall and nothing else, it is not an unpleasing object. But now go to the ruins of that Gothic church, and bring away the sculptured keystone of an arch, the fragments of a carved screen, a column with an elaborately cut capital, and sundry pinnacles and gargoyles, and work these into the masonry of your wall, and set up your pinnacles along the top, and let your gargoyles protrude their hideous heads at intervals: you have made a ridiculous thing out of your stone wall. People at once see that something is there which belongs to quite another order of things. Everybody acknowledges the difference between the church and the plain wall, and the difference offends no one so long as each keeps its place and is simply itself. But the attempt to patch one with the other emphasizes the difference offensively. The rent is made worse: the beauty is taken from the church, and the wall is made ugly
. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

Theology must tally with experience

I remember an old farmer who, when he was about sixty years of age, professed faith in Christ. He was full of zeal, and, for a time, was like a flaming torch in the neighbourhood. I never saw a man who seemed to feel so keenly the awful risk he had run in delaying his salvation so long. He could not be in a prayer-meeting without rising to warn his fellow-men against his mistake. But he was also an ignorant man, and his new experience only deepened his sense of his ignorance of the things of God; and he used to shut himself in his room with volumes on systematic theology, and painfully wade through their contents, and then come down to the prayer-meeting and attempt to reproduce what he had read; and you can easily imagine the result. So long as he kept to his own experience, so long as he was just himself, speaking of what he knew and felt, he spoke with power. The moment he cried to patch the theologian upon the plain farmer, he spoiled it all. The theology was ruined, and so was the personal experience. The ignorance which no one would have thought of in the plain man speaking out of a full heart, was thrust into prominence by the ridiculous attempt to play the part of a theological teacher. The rent was made worse. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

The unity of the gospel

The gospel is a unit, one and inseparable. It is sufficient unto itself. It asks no aid from any source outside of itself. It needs no combination to develop its peculiar virtues. The great truth it sets before men is Christ all, and in all. And it does its work for and in man upon the condition that it be received as it is; entire, adding nothing and subtracting nothing. It does not engage that there shall be virtue in its fragments apart from the whole. You may take up the lock of that rifle, and pull and snap it as much as you please, and it will be a good while before you shoot anything. You must combine it with the barrel and the stock, Neither lock, stock, nor barrel is good for anything, except as they together make up a rifle. Similarly, 1 cannot answer for the effect of a single Christian precept or doctrine disjoined from the whole. It is only a patch, cut out from a good, solid garment, and refusing to match with any other fabric. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

No patch-work morality

You say, and say honestly no doubt, that you want to be right and to do right, but you can accept the gospel only in part. Christ’s moral code is all very well, but the doctrine of the new birth you cannot accept. So you go to cutting patches again. You cut the moral code clean from the new birth. You will keep Christ’s precepts without being a new creature. You will sew the new code upon the old nature. Very well. Some people in a city think they will build a fountain. They engage an engineer, and a noted sculptor. A beautiful design is carried out in stone or bronze. The water is to pour from vases in the hands of sea-nymphs, and to spout from the horns of tritons. At last all is ready. The crowd assemble to witness the opening of the fountain. The signal is given, there is a little spirt from a jet here and there, and then all is dry as before. The stupid engineer has drawn his water from a point almost as low as the base of the fountain, and there is no head to send the water through the pipes. But a more competent workman comes to the rescue. He lays a large main. He leads it to a deep lake or reservoir far up above the town; and now, at the signal, the crystal waters shoot high into the air, and drape the beautiful forms with their falling spray. Oh, my friend, I greatly fear you have not rightly estimated that moral system of Christ. It is grander than you think; higher than you are aware; and to make your life flow through it to refresh the world, you will need something besides the pressure of your feeble will. Your reservoir is too low down. If your life is to fill that godlike out-line of virtue, its impulse must be Divine. If your impulse is earthly, your life will be earthly. That moral code was meant for a new man, and nothing but a birth from above, nothing but an impulse generated and maintained by God Himself, will ever enable you to live it. The new code and the new man will not be separated. If they shall not go together the gospel will be caricatured by you, and the new precepts will break loose continually from the old will and the old passions and the old habits, and the rent will be worse. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

Worthlessness of a patched character

Men talk of turning over a new leaf--of beginning over again. How many times you hear it. “Yes, I have been careless, self-indulgent, hasty and passionate; I am going to try to do better.” Never does the old year strike its last hour, that hundreds and thousands of people are not lying wakeful and thoughtful upon their beds, or sitting with sober meditation in their closets, and gathering up their faculties into mighty resolutions for the year to come. “ I will swear no more. I will drink no more. I will go to the house of God. I will begin to read my Bible.” The resolutions are good and honest, no doubt. It is a good thing that one’s attention has been called to those faults. It will be a better thing if he can carry out his resolution and master them; but, alas, neither the good resolutions nor their accomplishment go far enough. It is patch-work still; patching pieces of the gospel on the old nature; a temperance piece, and a Bible-reading piece, and a church-going piece, upon a nature which, in its very quality and essence, is estranged from God. The man gives up an indulgence here and there, says to God in effect, “Your moral law may come and occupy this ground which has been occupied by my misdoing”; but such an entrance of God’s law is like the occupation of some remote outpost of a fortified town by an invader. The citadel is still unreached. The situation is commanded by the garrison of the town. There is no conquest until the invader gets in there. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

Christianity will not amalgamate with Judaism

If any of the Pharisees, moved by the miracles which Christ wrought, had felt disposed to receive Him as a teacher from God, the thing which they would most naturally have attempted would have been the making a compound of their own religion and the Christian, so that, whilst they kept what they liked most in their tenets and observances, they might have the advantage of the new revelation; and therefore, what Christ had to denounce in the case of these Pharisees was the lurking notion that Christianity might admit some admixtures from other religions, so that men might bring into its profession their own favourite theories, and find them amalgamate very well with its doctrines. This notion Christ denounces most emphatically. Christianity, though far enough from being a new revelation, required that the scene should be swept clear for its institutions, peremptorily refusing that there should be blended with the revealed mode of a sinner’s acceptance anything of ceremonial ordinance, demanding to be received without admixture, or rejected without reserve. And it is against this that men in every age have rebelled. They have wanted not only to keep some part of their own favourite systems, but to keep it for the very end which, according to their own theory, it had heretofore answered. Thus generally with good works. It does not content them that Christianity demands good works, that it makes salvation impossible without them, and thus transfers to its system the favourite part of their own; they have been accustomed to account their works meritorious, and they would fain have Christianity account them so too; and this Christianity will not do. If it require and retain fasting and almsgiving, it will not allow them any justifying merit; it may be said to alter their character in granting them admission. Thus, whilst it has much in common with other systems, it is wholly against the being compounded with those systems, in order that the produce may give a mixed mode of obtaining salvation. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Christianity a new dispensation

Our Lord is referring to the proposal to enforce the ascetic leanings of the forerunner, and the pharisaic regulations which had become a parasitic growth on the old dispensation, upon the glad simplicity of the new dispensation. To act thus was much the same thing as using the gospel by way of a mere adjunct to--a mere purple patch upon--the old garment of the law. The teaching of Christ was a new and seamless robe which would only be spoilt by being rent. It was impossible to tear a few doctrines and precepts from Christianity, and use them as ornaments and improvements of Mosaism. If this were attempted

Suitable external forms

Jesus here applies a great principle to all external rites and ceremonies. They have their value. As the wineskin retains the wine, so are feelings and aspirations aided, and even preserved, by suitable external forms. Without these, emotion would lose itself for want of restraint, wasted like spilt wine, by diffuseness. And if the forms are unsuitable and outworn, the same calamity happens, the strong new feelings break through them, “and the wine perisheth, and the skins.” The coming of a new revelation meant the repeal of old observances, and Christ refused to sew His new faith like a patchwork upon ancient institutions, of which it would only complete the ruin. Thus He anticipated the decision of His apostles releasing the Gentiles from the law of Moses. (Dean Chadwick.)

A mixed garment

Just as it was forbidden by the law of Moses to wear a mixed garment of linen and of wool, so there was a deeper and a more essential incongruity involved in every attempt to patch the old and tattered garments of the law with the new and seamless robe of the gospel. Just as the insertion of a piece of undressed cloth, which shrinks when wetted, and takes along with it a part of the old and worn garment, does but increase the rent which it is designed to mend; just as the unfermented wine put into old skins, bursts the skins and perishes with them, even so our Lord declares that all attempts to combine the bondage of the law with the liberty of the gospel involves a fundamental ignorance of the nature and design of both. The two similitudes employed by our Lord seem to exhibit this truth in different ways.

1. The similitude of the old garment patched with a piece of new cloth seems more immediately applicable to external rites and ceremonies, such as the observance of those prescribed days and months and years which caused St. Paul to stand in doubt of the Galatian Church.

2. The similitude of the new wine seems to have reference to the inner life and spirit--the very life and soul of the Christian dispensation which could not be restrained within the trammels of the worldly sanctuary of Judaism. The history of the Church, in all after ages, teaches how greatly this lesson was needed, and how imperfectly it has been learned. (C. J. Elliot, M. A.)

New cloth on an old garment

This, we may add, is what the Church of Christ has too often done in her work as the converter of the nations. Sacramental ordinances, or monastic vows, or Puritan formulae, or Quaker conventionalities, have been engrafted on lives that were radically barbarous or heathen, or worldly, and the contrast has been glaring, and the rent made worse. The more excellent way which our Lord pursued, and which it is our wisdom to pursue, is to take the old garment and to transform it, as by a renewing power from within, thread by thread, till old things are passed away and all things are become new. (Dean Plumptre.)

The broken bottles

The doctrines of religion demand a certain suitableness, or preparedness, in the persons to whom they are taught; and if there be no attempt in the persons to fit themselves for the doctrines--to adapt the bottles to the wine--there is nothing to be looked for but that the doctrines will be wasted, and the persons, like the bottles, be only injured by what they have received. It may be the pure, the generous wine which is poured forth--the preacher may dispense nothing but the unadulterated gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the great mass of hearers come up to God’s house without the smallest preparation of heart, with scarce a thought given beforehand to the solemn duty in which they are about to engage. In place of having been secretly in prayer that God would give unto them the hearing ear and the understanding heart; in place of having been endeavouring to purge out the old leaven of worldliness and prejudice, that so they might bring with them candid and unoccupied minds; they rush to the sanctuary, as they would to some scene of business or pleasure; conversing, perhaps, up to the moment of entering it on politics, or scandal, or commerce, or fashion; and continuing to give the same things their thoughts, when restrained by the place from giving them their tongues. And what is to be looked for from the attempt to pour the new wine into these unseasoned bottles, but that the wine will be lost and the bottles themselves broken? Yes--you are not to overlook this peculiarity in the parable--the bottles are broken through the action of the wine; not through any external violence, but simply through the workings of the generous liquid. It is thus with the moral facts which the parable illustrates. The preaching of the gospel is no inefficient thing, producing no injury where it produces no benefit is “the savour of death unto death,” where it fails to be “the savour of life unto life.” This may be little thought of by numbers who, perhaps, attend church regularly on Sundays, and spend the intermediate days as those who are ignorant of judgment to come. Yet it is of all hardening things the most hardening, to remain unrenewed under the preaching of the gospel. Alas l for an audience accustomed to hear the gospel, but to hear it only with the understanding whilst they shut up the heart! I may pour in the wine--but, at every fresh pouring, there is, so to speak, a fresh rent in the bottles. Every Sunday does but make the matter worse, dismissing the hearers to their engrossing pursuits, and their ensnaring amusements, but with another unimproved opportunity for which to account, another warning neglected, another effort on God’s part resisted, and, therefore, another nerve added to the power of resistance. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

New wine in old bottles

As the action of organized churches has too often reproduced the mistake of sewing the patch of new cloth on the old garment, so in the action of enthusiastic or mystic sects, in the history of Montanism, Quakerism in its earlier stages, the growth of the so-called Catholic and Apostolic Church, which had its origin in the history of Edward Irving, we have that of pouring “new wine into old bottles.” (Dean Plumptre.)

Permanence of the old

When Mr. Lincoln was a young man, he was awakened one night by the good deacon with whom he boarded, and told that the stars were falling and the world coming to an end. He looked out of the window, and saw the air full of meteors, but, looking beyond, he saw the grand old constellations firm in their places where he had always seen them from childhood; and he went to bed, feeling that all was well so long as the old constellations were unmoved. (D. E. Lancing, D. D.)
.


Verse 35

Luke 5:35

But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them

Duties are not to be pressed indiscriminately on all persons and at all times

Our Lord makes fasting a duty, but, nevertheless, He excuses the children of the bridechamber while the bridegroom was with them, and then gives, as one reason for excusing them, the inexpediency of prescribing austerities to those yet young in His religion: it would only be likely to alienate and disgust them, driving them back to what they had abandoned, and thus making the rent worse, even as would the new cloth fastened on the old.
Attend carefully to this. There is all the difference between keeping a duty entirely out of sight, and enjoining it only at a certain stage in Christian experience. Undoubtedly, as a Christian grows in grace he grows fitted for sacrifices, privations, and endurances, which would have quite overcome him if demanded at an earlier point of his career as a believer; and it is not so much Christian prudence as Christian truth to avoid requiring from the young convert what may justly be required from the practised disciple. If our duties grow, as they certainly do, with our Christian age, it is not merely inexpedient, it is actually erroneous, to ask a beginner to perform a task, or to bear a burden, for which he may not have strength till grown into a veteran
. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 5:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/luke-5.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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