And he said to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Follow me.—The command came, as we have seen, to those who were not unprepared. Short as it was, it was in some sense the first parable in our Lord’s teaching, the germ of an actual parable (Matthew 13:47). It suggested a whole circle of thoughts. The sea is the troubled and evil world (Isaiah 57:20), and the souls of men are the fish that have to be caught and taken from it, and the net is the Church of Christ. The figure had been used before (Jeremiah 16:16), but then it had presented its darker aspect, and the “fishers of men” were their captors and enslavers. The earliest extant hymn of the Church, by Clement of Alexandria, dwells on the image with a rich and suggestive playfulness. Christ is thus addressed:—
“Fisher of men, the blest,
Out of the world’s unrest,
Out of sin’s troubled sea
Taking us, Lord, to Thee;
Out of the waves of strife,
With bait of blissful life,
Drawing Thy nets to shore
With choicest fish, good store.”Matthew 4:19-20. He saith unto them — Namely, after some previous circumstances, an account of which is given, Luke 5:1-11. Follow me — That is, not only now and then, as you have hitherto done, since my baptism, John 1:37; but now leave your ordinary employments, and become my constant attendants; that by continually hearing my doctrine, and seeing my miracles, you may be fitted, in due time, to become my messengers to mankind. It is observable that, when God has called men to offices of dignity and usefulness among his people, or has particularly appeared in their favour, they have generally been engaged in some honest employment. Saul was seeking his father’s asses, and David was keeping his father’s sheep, when the Lord called them to the kingdom. The shepherds were feeding their flocks when they received information from the angel, accompanied by the heavenly host, of the birth of Christ. God called Amos from the flock, Gideon from the threshing floor, and the apostles here from their fishing. God does not encourage idleness, nor despise persons in mean employments. And I will make you fishers of men — You shall gather men into the gospel net, and gain them over to the faith; and such abundant success will I give you, that the number of souls converted by you, shall be greater than that of the fishes you have been used to catch. See notes on Ezekiel 37:6-10. Observe, reader! The work of ministers is here set forth. They are not to fish for a livelihood, much less for honour and applause to themselves, but to win souls to God, and are to bait their hooks and order their nets for this end: which, however, will never be answered if, either by mere general discourses, they make the meshes so wide that sinners will find an easy passage through them, or, by abstract reasonings, and fine-spun speculations, they make the threads so small that they can easily break them; or, if they neglect to close the net upon those they have enclosed, by a proper and pointed application of their subject. Nor will all our art or labour make us fishers of men, without the divine blessing. Without this, like the disciples of old, we may toil all day and all night, but we shall catch nothing, or nothing to purpose. And it is to be observed further, that the apostles were not immediately to enter upon the work of the ministry, but were first to follow Jesus. And the apostles, in the choice of one to succeed Judas, limited themselves in their election to those that had companied with them all the time the Lord Jesus had gone in and out among them, Acts 1:21. Those who do not observe this become fishers for something else rather than the souls of men. They straightway left their nets and followed him — Influenced by the power of his word, and struck with the wonderful miracle recorded Luke 5:6-9. It is not of indispensable necessity that those who are called to the ministry of the word should have nothing else to do. Paul’s hand ministered to his necessities and those of his companions. But it is very desirable that they should be so supported as to be able to give themselves wholly up to the work of the Lord.
and I will make you fishers of men—raising them from a lower to a higher fishing, as David was from a lower to a higher feeding (Ps 78:70-72).Exodus 3:1,2; Gideon from the threshing floor, Judges 6:11. God never encourages idleness, but despiseth not persons in meanest employments.
Follow me, that is, to return no more to your employment.
I will make you fishers of men: here is the work of ministers set out, to gain souls to God; they are not to fish merely for a livelihood, much less for honour and applause to themselves, but to win souls to God, and are to bait their hooks and order their nets to this end, which they will never serve, if either by general discourses they make the meshes so wide that all will dart through them, or if by their wit and learning they make their discourses so fine and curious that few or none of their hearers can understand them. Nor will all our art make us fishers of men: I will make you, saith Christ. Paul may plant, and Apollos may water, God must give the increase. But yet we must order our nets rationally and probably in order to our end, and without that cannot expect God’s blessings. Nor were the apostles presently to enter upon the work of the ministry, but first to follow him. And indeed such should all gospel ministers be. In the choice of Matthias, Peter limited the people in their election to those that had accompanied with them all the time the Lord Jesus went in and out amongst them, Acts 1:21. Other ministers commonly prove fishers for something else, not for the souls of men. John 1:35 and though through John's pointing out Christ unto them, they had some knowledge of him, and conversation with him, yet they abode with him but for that day, John 1:37 and afterwards returned to their master; and upon his imprisonment, betook themselves to their former employment: from whence Christ now calls them to be his disciples, saying "follow me", or "come after me": that is, be a disciple of mine; see Luke 14:27. And to encourage them to it, makes use of this argument; "and", or "for", I "will make you fishers of men": you shall be fishers still, but in a higher sense; and in a far more noble employment, and to much better purpose. The net they were to spread and cast was the Gospel, see Matthew 13:47 for Christ made them not , "fishers of the law", to use the words of Maimonides (g), but fishers of the Gospel. The sea into which they were to cast the net was first Judea, and then the whole world; the fish they were to catch were the souls of men, both among Jews and Gentiles; of whose conversion and faith they were to be the happy instruments: now none could make them fishers in this sense, or fit them for such service, and succeed them in it, but Christ; and who here promises it unto them. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 4:19-20. Δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου] come here after me! לְכוּ אַחֲרַי (2 Kings 6:19; 1 Kings 11:5), be my pupils. The disciples were in constant attendance on their teacher; Schoettgen, Hor. in loc.
ποιήσω … ἀνθρώπων] I will put you in a position to gain men, that they may become members of the kingdom of the Messiah. Words borrowed from the domain of hunting and fishing (Jeremiah 16:16) often denote the winning over of souls for themselves or others. Wetstein and Loesner, Hemsterhusius, ad Lucian. Dial. Mort. viii.; Burmann, ad Phaedr. iv. 4. Comp. on 2 Corinthians 11:20. Here the typical phraseology suggested itself from the circumstances.
εὐθέως] belongs to ἀφέντες, not to ἠκολ.
ἠκολ.] as disciples.
καταρτίζ., either arranging (Bengel) or repairing (Vulgate and most commentators). We cannot determine which; Luke has ἀπέπλυναν.
The want of harmony between Matthew 4:18 ff. and John 1:35 ff. is to be recognised, and is not (as the Fathers of the church, Kuinoel, Gratz, Olshausen, Hoffmann, Krabbe, Neander, Ebrard, Arnoldi, Luthardt, Bleek, Riggenbach, Lange, Ewald, Hausrath, Märcker, have attempted) to be removed by supposing that in Matthew it is a second calling of the apostles in question that is recorded, viz. that they had already been at an earlier date (John 1:35 ff.) disciples of Jesus in the wider sense of the word, but that now for the first time they had become so in the narrower sense—that is, had become apostles. Comp. on John, remark after ch. 1. Matthew does not even agree with Luke 5:4 ff. See remarks on the passage, and Keim, Gesch. J. II. p. 215. We must in any case (in answer to Baur, Hilgenfeld) seek the true history of the occurrence in John, in whose account a merely preliminary adherence to Jesus is the less to be thought of, that immediately afterwards οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ go with Him to Cana (ii. 2), to Capernaum (ii. 12), and to Jerusalem (ii. 17, 22). This also in, answer to Liicke on John, I. p. 466 f., and to Wieseler, who distinguishes a threefold act in the selection of the disciples: the preliminary calling in John 1:35 ff.; the setting apart to be constant attendants, Matthew 4:18 ff; Matthew 9:9 ff.; and the selection of the Twelve to be apostles, Matthew 10:2-4. Wieseler (chronol. Synopse, p. 278) lays especial weight on the circumstance that John names τοὺς δώδεκα for the first time in John 6:67. But John in general, with the exception of this passage (and the John 6:70 and John 6:71 belonging to it), only once again expressly mentions the τοὺς δώδεκα (viz. in John 20:21), which is determined by the antithetic interest in the context. Especially in John 6:67 are the Twelve opposed to those others, many of whom had deserted Him. Previously, however, John had no opportunity, where this or any other antithetical relation might give him occasion, to give prominence to the number of the Twelve.
Besides, the history of the calling in Matthew, if it were not in contradiction to John, would by no means bear in itself a mythical character (Strauss finds in it a copy of the call of Elisha by Elijah, 1 Kings 19:19 ff.), but is to be explained from the great, directly overwhelming impression made by the appearance of Jesus on minds prepared for it, which Matthew himself experienced (Matthew 9:9); and this also is to be applied to the Johannine account. This narrative, which Schenkel and Keim relegate to the sphere of free invention, does not exclude the profound and certainly original words, “fishers of men,” which may have proceeded from the mouth of Jesus to His first called disciples on that day, John 1:40; and upon the basis of these words the narrative of the call, as it is preserved in Matthew and Mark, might easily be formed.19. fishers of men] A condensed parable explicitly drawn out, ch. Matthew 13:47-50.Matthew 4:19. Δεῦτε, come ye) This word has the force of calling combined with the idea of the present moment; see Matthew 11:28, Matthew 21:38, etc. This is evident from the singular δεῦρο, hither.—ποιήσω, κ.τ.λ., I will make, etc.) The authority of Jesus Christ [is here asserted].—ἁλιεῖς, fishers) See Jeremiah 16:16.Verse 19. - Follow me; come ye after me (Revised Version); δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου. There is no thought of continuous following from place to place (ἀκολουθεῖν) , but of immediate detachment from the present sphere of their interest and of attachment to Jesus as their leader. And I will make you fishers of men; Mark, "to become fishers of men," laying more stress on the change in their character necessary for success in this new kind of fishing. Luke 5:10 brings out the change in the nature of the work(ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν). Fishers. The word suggests care, patience, skill, besides habits of life fitted for endurance of privation and fatigue. The same promise is, as it seems, related in Luke 5:10, where notice:
(1) It is connected with the miracle of the draught of fishes.
(2) It is not verbally identical with this: Μὴ φοβοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν ἀνθρώπους ἔσῃ ζωγρῶν.
(3) The words are addressed individually to Simon.
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