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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Luke 5





Christ teacheth the people out of Peter's ship; in a miraculous taking of fishes, sheweth how he will make him and his partners fishers of men; cleanseth the leper; prayeth in the wilderness; healeth one sick of the palsy; calleth Matthew the publican; eateth with sinners, as being the physician of souls; foretelleth the fastings and afflictions of the apostles after his ascension: and likeneth faint-hearted and weak disciples to worn-out garments and old bottles.

Anno Domini 30.

Verse 6

Luke 5:6. And their net brake. Διερρηγνυτο,— was breaking, or began to break. This translation is justified by the words ωστε βυθιζεσθαι αυτα, in the following verse, which without dispute is there properlyrendered so that they began to sink. Thus also Matthew 9:18. My daughter u945?ρτι ετελευτησεν, is now (almost) dead, as is evident from Mark 5:23. Luke 8:49. So likewise chap. Luke 21:26 in the original men (almost) killed through fear.

Verse 8

Luke 5:8. Depart from me, Peter's words on this occasion may be variously interpreted; for we may suppose that, conscious of his sinfulness, he was afraid to be in Christ's company, lest some infirmity or offence might have exposed him to more than ordinary chastisements. Compare Judges 6:22; Judges 13:22. Or, it being an opinion of the Jews, that the visits of the prophets were attended with chastisements from heaven, 1 Kings 17:18 he might be struck with a panic, when he observed this proof of Christ's power: or he may have said to his Master, depart, because he was not able to shew him the respect that he deserved, and was not worthy to be in his company. In this latter sense St. Peter's words were full of reverence and humility, being not unlike the centurion's speech so highly applauded by Jesus himself,—I am unworthy that thou shouldst come under my roof. It is so well known that it scarce needs observing, that the ancients thought it improper and unsafe, where it could be avoided, for good men to be in the same ship with persons of an infamous character; nor would the heathens sometimes permit the very images of their deities to be carried in a vessel with such. See the Inferences and Reflections.

Verse 10

Luke 5:10. Thou shalt catch men. Thou shalt captivate, or take alive. The exact meaning of the word ζωγρων . See 2 Timothy 2:26 in the margin. To catch, implies something more of artifice than the word carries with it, or the occasion seems to require.

Verse 11

Luke 5:11. Brought their ships to land, Or, Their boats to shore.

Verse 17

Luke 5:17. And the power of the Lord was present, &c.— Our Lord not only preached such awakening sermons as might have converted them to righteousness, but he was ready to perform such astonishing miracles as ought to have removed all their scruples with respect to his mission. Some suppose, that the word them refers not to the doctors and Pharisees of the law, but, in general, to those who had need of healing, and faith to be healed—the crowds, mentioned Mark 2:2. See on Matthew 9:1.

Verse 20

Luke 5:20. And when he saw their faith, That of the man, and of his friends,—though they themselves spake nothing; the miserable condition of the paralytic yet pleading with a voice far more eloquent than all language. St. Chrysostom, speaking of this act of the bearers, says, "So ingenious a thing is affection, and so fruitful in invention is love!" And upon the paralytic's patience in bearing all these difficulties,and not waiting for some other opportunity, he observes, he said nothing of all this to his bearers; but thought it became him to make such a number of persons as were present, witnesses of his cure. His faith, however, was not only visible from hence, but likewise from the very words used by Christ on this occasion; for which reason also Christ did not go out to him, but waited for the sick man to come to him, that he might have an opportunity of demonstrating the faith of the paralytic to all the company. For could not he have made the admission of the paralytic to him aneasy thing? But he did nothing of that nature, that he might exhibit to all the company the diligent and fervent faith of the paralytic and his friend

Verse 26

Luke 5:26. They were all amazed, That is, the Pharisees and doctors of the law, mentioned Luke 5:17 as well as all the people. See Matthew 9:8. And indeed, whether you examine the nature of this miracle, as being a perfect and instantaneous cure of an obstinate universal palsy, under which a person advanced in years had laboured for a long time; a perfect cure produced by pronouncing a single sentence; or whether you consider the number and quality of the witnesses present, Pharisees and doctors of the law from every town of Galilee and Judea, and from Jerusalem, together with the vast concourse of people; or whether you attend to the effect which the miracle had upon the witnesses;—that the Pharisees and doctors of the law, not able to find fault with it in any respect, though they had come with a design to refute our Lord's pretensions as a worker of miracles, were astonished, and openly confessed that it was a strange thing which they had seen;—that the multitude glorified God, who had given such power unto men;—that the person upon whom the miracle was wrought, employed his tongue, the use of which he had recovered, in celebrating the praises of God:—in short, view it in whatever light you please, you will find in it a most illustrious miracle, highly worthy of your attention and admiration.

Verse 27

Luke 5:27. A publican named Levi, There were at this time in the Roman empire two sorts of people, who might be called publicans, ( τελωναι .) First, such as farmed the taxes of whole provinces. These generally were Roman knights, men of very honourable characters, as we learn from the commendations which Cicero gives of them. It was this sort of tax-gatherers, who were properly termed publicans by the Romans; but it does not appear that they are ever mentioned in the Gospels. These did not levy the taxes in person, but they employed their freed-men and slaves in that office; and to make out the number, gave them for assistants as many of the natives of the country as were necessary. This sort of men were likewise called publicans, ( τελωναι ) being as it were under-farmers of the taxes; but in Latin their proper name was portitores. Their employment was attended with great temptations; for the taxes being farmed for a sum, in levying them from individuals they had it in their power to exact more than was due. Farther, in every country the raising of taxes for a foreign power being an odious business, not many of the natives would choose to be employed in it, except such as were of the lower station and character. In the execution therefore of thisoffice, these men did not fail to push matters to the utmost, levying the taxes with rigour, and enriching themselves with the spoils of the people. Hence this class of publicans, in all countries, became the objects of universal hatred. In Judea especially they were particularly infamous, because the paying of taxes to heathens was by many looked upon as little better than apostacy from their religion. Thesecircumstances,togetherwiththeinjusticewhich the publicans usually committed in the execution of their office, occasioned them always to be ranked with sinners, and made those who valued their own reputation shun their company. But though the publicans in general were bad men, there were among them some of a different character. Zaccheus was most probably a person of great probity and charity, even before his conversion; and Matthew (here called Levi) may have resembled him; at least in the Gospels there are no hints to be found of any unjust practices committed by him in the execution of his office. It is generally thought, that the taxes he levied were those imposed upon commodities transported by the sea of Galilee to and from Capernaum.

Verse 34

Luke 5:34. The children, &c.— The bridemen.

Verse 37-38

Luke 5:37-38. Bottles shall perish. Some render it, Skins will be lost.

Verse 39

Luke 5:39. No man also, having drunk old wine That is, "As people who have been accustomed to drink wine made mellow with age, do not willingly drink new wine, which for the most part is harsh and unpleasant; so Christ's disciples, having been accustomed for some time to live without practising any kind of severities for which the Pharisees were remarkable, could not relish that new wayof life which they had been recommending; they were not yet so fully acquainted with and established in his doctrine, as to submit cheerfully to any extraordinary hardships." This is Le Clerc's interpretation of the passage; but Wolfius and others apply it to the Pharisees, who were much better pleased, with the traditions of the elders, than with the doctrines of Christ; because the latter prescribed duties more difficult and disagreeable to the corrupt natures of men than the former. See on Joel 1:5. We may just remark how applicable these proverbial parables were to the time and occasion. See Luke 5:29.

Inferences drawn from the calling of Simon, &c.—As the sun in its first rising draws all eyes to it, so did the Sun of Righteousness, when he first shone forth in the world. His miraculous cures drew patients; his divine doctrines drew auditors; both together drew the admiring multitude by troops after him, Luke 5:1.

And why do we not still follow thee, O Saviour, through desarts and mountains, over land and seas, that we may be both healed and taught?—It was thy promise, O Saviour, that when thou wert lifted up, thou wouldst draw all men after thee; behold, thou hast been lifted up since, both to the tree of shame, and to the throne of heavenly glory: O draw us, then, blessed Lord, and we will run after thee. Thy word is still the same, though proclaimed by men; thy virtue is still the same, though exercised upon the spirits of men; give us to hunger after both, that by both our souls may be satisfied.

The people, in the present instance, not only follow Christ, but press upon him: even indecorum here finds both excuse and acceptance. They did not keep their distance in awe of the majesty of the Speaker, while their ears were ravished with the power of the speech; yet did not the Saviour check their unceremonious thronging, but rather he encourages their forwardness: we cannot offend thee, O God, with the importunity of our desires; nay, thou art well pleased that the kingdom of heaven should suffer violence: ever art thou displeased with our slackness; our vehemence never can displease.

The throng of his audience forced Christ to leave the shore, and make Peter's vessel his pulpit. Never were there such nets cast out of that fishing-boat before. While he was upon the land, he healed the sick bodies by his touch; now that he was upon the sea, he cured the sick souls by his doctrines; and is purposely severed from the multitude, that he may unite them to himself. He that made both sea and land, causeth both sea and land to conspire to the opportunities of doing good.

Simon and his partners were busy washing their nets, little thinking so soon to leave them, though they now so carefully employed their attention; when, behold, Christ interrupts them with the favour and blessing of his gracious presence. The honest Simon, when he saw the people flock after Christ, and heard him speak with such power, could not but conceive a confused apprehension of some excellent worth in such a teacher, and therefore is glad to honour his vessel with such a guest, and to be first Christ's host at sea, ere he is his disciple by land: a humble and serviceable entertainment of so great a prophet, was a good introduction to his future honour.

No sooner is this service done to Christ, than he is preparing the bounteous reward. When the sermon is ended, he saith unto Simon, Luke 5:4. Launch out into the deep, &c. It had been as easy for our Saviour to have brought the fish to Peter's boat, close to the shore: but in all his miracles we may observe, he ever loves to meet Nature in all her boundaries; and when she has done her best, to supply the rest by his over-ruling power.

Rather from a desire to gratify and obey his guest, than to please himself, will Simon bestow one cast of his net: (Had Christ enjoined him a harder task, he had not refused;) yet not without a modest allegation of the unlikelihood of success. Master, we have toiled all night, (Luke 5:5.) and caught nothing; yet at thy word I will let down the net. The night was the fittest time, humanly speaking, for the hopes of their trade; so that not unjustly might Simon doubt his success through the day, when he had worn out the whole night in unprofitable labour: and thus it is that God sometimes crosses the fairest of our expectations, and gives a blessing to those times and means, whereof our prudence utterly despairs; those pains cannot be cast away, which we resolve to employ for Christ.

O God, how many do we see daily casting out their nets in the great lake of this world, and, in the whole night of their lives, have caught nothing in recompense of their toil! They conceive mischief, and they bring forth iniquity: They hatch cockatrice eggs, and weave the spider's web; he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is trodden upon breaketh out into a serpent. Their webs shall form no garment, neither shall they cover themselves with their labours.

O ye sons of men! how long will ye love vanity, and follow after lies?—And yet, if we have thus vainly mispent the time past, let us, at the command of Christ, cast out, with these fishermen, our newly-washen nets; and our humble and patient obedience shall come then home richly laden with blessings: (Luke 5:6.) never man threw out his net at the command of his Saviour, and drew it back empty. Who would not obey thee, O Christ, since thou so bountifully requitest our weak services!

It was not mere retribution that was intended in this event, but instruction also. This act was not without a mystery: they who were to be made fishers of men, were in this drought to foresee their success: The kingdom of heaven, we are assured, is like a drawn-net, cast into the sea, which, when it is full, men draw to land, &c. Matthew 13:47-48. Thus the very first draught which Peter made after the commencement of the gospel dispensation, inclosed no less than three thousand souls, Acts 2:41. O powerful gospel! that can fetch sinful men from the depth of natural corruption! O happy souls, that, from the blind and polluted cells of our wicked nature, are thus drawn forth into the glorious liberty of the sons of God!

Simon's net begins to break with the store; accordingly they beckon their partners in the other vessel for help, Luke 5:7. There cannot be a better improvement of society, than to afford mutual assistance, than to relieve each other in all profitable labours, for drawing up the spiritual draught into the vessel of Christ's church. Gracious Saviour, if these apostolical vessels of thy first rigging were thus overladen, how do ours float and totter with an unballasted lightness! O do Thou, who art no less present in these our vessels, lade them with an equal freight of sanctified sentiments, or of converted souls, according to our station; and thus shall we too have equal cause to praise thee for thy exuberant bounty.

Simon was a skilful fisher, and well knew the depth of his trade; perceiving now therefore more than art, more than nature in this draught, He falls down at the knees of Jesus, and acknowledges his unworthiness, Luke 5:8. Himself is caught in this wonderful net. He does not greedily fall upon the unexpected and profitable booty; but turns his eyes from the draught to himself; from the act to the author; and in the utmost astonishment proclaims his own vileness, and his Saviour's majesty: Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!

What pity had it been that the poor honest fisherman should have been taken at his word! O Simon, thy Saviour is come into thy own boat to call thee, and to call others by thee unto blessedness:—and dost thou say, Lord, depart from me?—as if the patient should say to the physician, "Depart from me, for I am sick." But it was the voice of astonishment, not of dislike; the voice of humility, not of discontent: yea, Peter, because thou art a sinful man, therefore hath thy Saviour need to come to thee, to stay with thee; and because thou art humble in the acknowledgment of thy sinfulness, therefore does Christ delight to abide with thee, and will call thee to abide with him. No man ever fared the worse for abasing himself to his God: many a soul has Christ left for froward and unkind usage; never any for its disparagement of itself, and intreaties of humility.

O my soul, be not weary of complaining of thy own wretchedness; but be astonished at those mercies, which have shamed thy ill-deservings. Thy Saviour has no power to turn away from a prostrate heart; he that terribly resisteth the proud, delighteth to revive the spirits of the lowly: Fear not, &c. Luke 5:10. Behold, Simon's humility is rewarded with an apostleship! He that bade Christ go from him, shall have the honour to go first on the happy errand of gospel salvation.

This was indeed a trade in which Simon had no skill; yet it could not but be enough to him, that Christ had said, Follow me,—I will make thee.—The miracle shewed him able to make good his word.

What then is this divine trade of ours, but a spiritual fishery? The world is a sea; souls, like fishes, swim at liberty in this great deep: the nets of wholesome doctrine draw some up to the shore of glory, who yield to be saved by grace. How much skill and care, how much toil and patience, are requisite for this art! Who is sufficient for these things? This sea,—these nets,—the fishers,—the fish,—the vessels,—all are thine, O God; do in us, and by us, what thou wilt: give us ability and grace to follow thee, and to take men; and give unto men the will and grace to be taken; and take thou the eternal glory.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Vast was the concourse that attended the preaching of Jesus; and while the scribes and Pharisees, the wise doctors of the law, despised him, the common people were eager to hear him, and pressed through the crowd to get nearer. Hereupon,

1. Christ desired the use of a fisherman's boat, for the greater convenience of being heard, and to be less incommoded with the throng; and there he sat down and taught the people who stood before him on the shore.

2. When he had done preaching, he desired Simon, in whose boat he was, to launch out farther into the lake, and let down his nets. Simon told him the ill success which they had met with; but, though they had wearied themselves all night, and washed their nets, if he bade them, they would cheerfully make another trial. Note; (1.) The most diligent and laborious sometimes meet with disappointments, and are apt to be discouraged by the little fruit they see of their labours; but they must persist in the way of duty, and leave the event to God. (2.) If our bread be easily earned, and our rest sweet unto us, we should remember charitably those who labour hard for little gain, and are awake at their toils, when we are sleeping.

3. Most amazing was the quantity of fishes they inclosed: their net began to give way with the weight; and, unable to draw them up themselves, they beckoned to their partners to come to their assistance, and loaded both their boats so deep, that they were in danger of sinking. Peter was now abundantly repaid for the loan of his boat; and in this display of his Master's power in the sea, as well as on the land, might be confirmed in his faith of the doctrine which he had heard.

4. Peter, deeply affected with what he saw, and perceiving the danger they were in, fell down at Jesus's knees, and, under the deepest sense of his own unworthiness, cried out, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. Conscious of his guilt and sinfulness, he trembled, lest the Lord was come to punish instead of blessing him; and was afraid of his very mercies: for he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of fishes they had taken; though brought up to this business from their youth, they had never seen any thing at all to be compared with this in their whole lives. Note; Though we have grievously offended our Lord, we must not say, Depart from me, but, Stay with me, or, Return to me in mercy; for nothing but his presence and grace can keep us from sinking.

5. Jesus quiets their fears. He is not come to them in anger, but in mercy: and he has still greater kindness in store for them than this cargo of fishes; therefore he said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men, and be more successful in casting the gospel-net, and drawing greater multitudes out of the depths of sin and misery to life and salvation. Which was eminently fulfilled, Acts 2:41.

6. No sooner were they come to land, than Simon and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee their partners, obeying his call, immediately left their boats, and all they had, quitting their employment at the time when it appeared most successful; and commenced thenceforward constant attendants on the Lord Jesus. Note; They who know the blessedness of Christ's service, will count nothing too much to part with for his sake.

2nd, We have,

1. The cleansing of the leper. This history both the former evangelists have recorded. It affords us,

(1.) A striking emblem of our true state. So corrupt is our nature; so spotted are our souls; so loathsome in the eyes of God, and by all natural means so utterly incurable, is the disease of sin.

(2.) It directs us where our only hope lies, even in Jesus, the great Physician. To him, with deep humiliation and confusion of face, in the sight of our own vileness, should we make application; crying earnestly for his healing grace; depending on his power to save to the uttermost; and casting ourselves wholly on his mercy.

(3.) Christ appears a gracious Saviour, ready to hear the prayer of the poor and destitute, and able to save to the uttermost all who come to him: both to pardon the sinner's guilt, however aggravated; and to deliver him from the power of his corruptions, however inveterate.

(4.) Every cleansed sinner will obediently follow the commands of Jesus; will offer up himself a living sacrifice to God; and in the blessed, evident, and universal change wrought upon him, will leave those without excuse, who will not acknowledge the divine power and grace magnified in such a conversion.

2. Great multitudes resorted to him from every quarter to hear him, and to be healed. The more he sought to be hid, the more his fame spread. The gratitude and transport of joy this poor man felt on his cure, would not permit him to hold his tongue and conceal the glory of his great Benefactor. Modest worth, that wishes to be concealed, shines the brighter.

3. He withdrew, after the labours of the day, from the crowd, and, retiring into a solitary place, spent some time alone in prayer.—To teach us this necessary duty, which nothing should intrench upon or interrupt.

3rdly, Christ ceased not his indefatigable labours.

1. He preached in a house on a week-day at Capernaum; for no day, no place, is unsuitable or unseasonable, when an opportunity offers to speak a word for God, and for the good of men's souls. Among others of his audience, were a large number of scribes and Pharisees; who, with no good intention, were come from the distant places, not to hear and learn, but to sit by, to make remarks and cavil; and the power of the Lord was present to heal them, not the Pharisees, but many of the multitude who came to him with their several diseases; thus at least to leave without excuse those who refused the evidence of such incontestable miracles. Note; (1.) When persons come to hear the word of God, not to profit themselves, but to prejudice others against it, great is their guilt. (2.) Though we know the malice of those who watch for our halting, we must not be discouraged from persevering in the way of duty. (3.) The power of the Lord is present to heal wherever his gospel is preached; but they who reject the counsel of God against their own souls, have only themselves to blame for their destruction.

2. Just at that time a paralytic was brought to Jesus: unable to gain access by the door, because of the multitude, his friends carried him up to the top of the house, and let him down through the roof into the room where Jesus was. (See the Annotations.) Beholding their faith, he pronounces the pardon of His sins; and notwithstanding all the cavils of the Pharisees which he knew, Jesus confirms the divine authority that he assumed, by an immediate cure of the paralytic; proving thereby, that he who could thus by his own power remove the effects of sin, had an undoubted right to pardon it. The cure was instantaneous and perfect, and raised the amazement of all who were struck with sacred reverence and awe, when they saw him who the moment before lay stretched so helpless, now rise with full strength and vigour, take up his own bed, and go away glorifying God for the astonishing mercy; and the people in general acknowledged, that no such strange miracles were ever before seen or heard of. Note; (1.) All our diseases are the fruit of sin, and that should ever humble us under them before God. (2.) Jesus hath power to forgive sins, and they who by faith come to him, shall know it by blessed experience. (3.) If our sin be pardoned, the bitterness of sickness is passed away: a soul rejoicing in God, as its Saviour, has nothing to complain of. (4.) When we have received mercy at God's hand, we are bound to ascribe to him the glory due unto his name, and to speak to his praise.

4thly, The conversion of the sinner's heart to God is equally a matter of wonder, and as great an evidence of divine power, as cleansing the leper, or raising the dead. We have,

1. The calling of Matthew, or Levi the publican, and his ready obedience to the command of Jesus: instantly leaving all, he followed him. The vilest sinners who come to Jesus at his call, will hear him speak to their hearts, and be effectually wrought upon: nothing is above his almighty grace.

2. The gracious condescension of the Lord to those publicans whom Matthew invited to his house. Our Lord disdained not to sit down with them, and vindicates his conduct from the envious, malicious, and censorious suggestions of the Pharisees. He associated not with them as approving their ways, or countenancing them in evil, but as a physician visits the diseased: the whole, at least they who fancy themselves so, need not his care. The business of the Saviour in the world was not with the righteous, or those who were vainly puffed up with a conceit of their own excellence, as was the case of the Pharisees; he came to call poor sinners, as the publicans were, to repentance; and would kindly receive them, when sensible of their guilt and sinfulness they turned to him. And he is still the same gracious Lord; no miserable sinner need despair; let him look unto Jesus and be saved. Those only perish, who through wilful ignorance know not their need of him, or proudly fancy that they are righteous.

3. He vindicates his disciples from the censures of the Pharisees respecting fasting. It was not fit that they should fast, while their Master was with them; they were not yet prepared to endure this discipline. Such austerities might tempt them to draw back, as new fermenting wine would burst old leathern bottles; their exercises must be proportioned to their strength. At present they could not bear it; but hereafter the time would come, when losing their Master, and called out to labour in his cause, they would learn to fast, 1 Corinthians 4:11. Not that the Pharisees had a right to lay such a stress upon their own bodily services: though, like new fermenting wine that sparkles high, they made a fair show in the flesh, their form of godliness was not to be compared with the life and power of religion, the old wine, which the disciples possessed, and which every spiritual person who has a true relish for the things of God far prefers.


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Luke 5:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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Tuesday, May 26th, 2020
the Seventh Week after Easter
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