And he said to them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and you shall find. They cast therefore…
(Text, and Luke 5:4): — The whole life of Christ was a sermon. The miracles attest His mission; but a higher reason for them is to be found in the instruction which they convey. Some ministers have often preached from the same text, but never the same discourse. The like may be said of Christ. The two miracles seem to the casual observer to be alike; but though the text is the same in both, the dis. course is full of variations. Note —
I. THE POINTS OF UNIFORMITY. They are both intended to set forth the way in which Christ's kingdom shall increase; viz., that —
1. The means must be used. In the first case, the fish did not leap into Simon's boat, nor in the second, did they lay themselves down upon the coals. No, the fishermen must go out in their boat, cast the net, and then either drag it ashore, or fill the boats with its contents. It is a miracle, but human agency is not ignored. In saving souls God works by means. So long as the economy of grace shall stand, God will by the foolishness of preaching save them that believe. God works by means of men whom He specially calls to His work, and not as a rule without them. The outcry against the "one man ministry" comes not of God, but of proud self-conceit. The new ways of catching fish without nets, and saving souls without ministers, will never answer. I know not a church that has despised instrumentality but it has come to an end within a few years either by schism or decay.
2. Means of themselves are utterly unavailing. In both cases there was failure — why? They were no raw hands; they had toiled, and toiled all night. There was no deficiency of fish, for as soon as the Master comes there they are by shoals. What, then, is the reason? Because there is no power in the means apart from the presence of Christ. Without Christ we can do nothing. "Not by might," &c. Put no dependence upon societies, committees, ministries, &c. Let us work as if all depended upon us; but let us depend upon God, knowing that it rests with Him alone.
3. It is Christ's presence that confers success. It was His will that drew the fish to the net as He sat in Peter's boat. It was His presence on the dry land that drew the fish to the right side of the ship. Christ's presence in the midst of the Church is the Church's power.
4. The success developed human weakness. In the first instance the net breaks and the ship began to sink, and Peter says, "Depart," &c. 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. If the Lord gives us success in winning souls we shall soon find out what nothings we are. Little increases such as have been common in our churches for years, are quite consistent with great self-congratulation, and so is utter barrenness; mark the pompous carriage of many a fruitless preacher. The man humbles himself in the dust when hundreds are ingathered, for this cannot be the minister; this is the finger of God.
II. THE DISSIMILARITY. The first picture represents the Church of God as we see it; the second as it really is. Luke tells us what the crowd see; John, what Christ showed to His disciples alone.
1. There is a difference in the orders given. In the first, it is, "Launch out into the deep," &c. In the second, "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 everywhere. The preacher is not to single out any particular character. Those who preach only to the elect should remember this. What if we be in town, or city, or village? what if we be among the rich or poor, learned or illiterate? we have nothing to do with that — our duty is to "launch out into the deep, and let down the net." Christ will find the fish. 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 invisible work of the Spirit, whereby He so adapts our ministry that He makes it particular and special.
2. In the first instance there is a distinct plurality. The fishermen have nets and boats, and each man comes out distinctly. In the next, they are all in one boat, and unitedly drag one net. This is the visible and the invisible.
(1) To us the means are various. We are in one boat but there is another over yonder, and whenever our boat gets too full, we should beckon to our partners in the other ship to come and help us. We ought not to look upon those brethren who differ from us, as though they were emptying the sea and rivalling us. The plurality of agency involved in denominations is a great blessing. We stir one another up, and do far more good then if there were only one nominal church. There will always be a Paul and a Barnabas, who cannot get on together.
(2) But let us look to the inward. In John they are all on one boat fishing together, dragging one net. This is what is really the fact. We do not see it, but all God's ministers are dragging one net, and all God's Church is in one ship. It is no use striving after outward uniformity. Neither the texture of the human mind nor the will of God require it, It is the unity of the Spirit in Christ Jesus, in love that God would have us regard.
3. In the first case a great multitude of fish were caught. In the second "a hundred and fifty and three." It were impossible to reckon how many have been taken in the outward net of the visible Church. But it is possible for it to be known of God how many shall be brought at last, and how many now are in the invisible Church. They shall be in heaven a number that no man can number, for God's elect are not few; but "the Lord knoweth them that are His."
4. The fish that were taken the first time appear to have been of all sorts. The net 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 ease the net was full of great fishes; they were all great fishes, all good and worth the keeping. 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 some that are not good, and not really called of God. Sometimes we have Church-meetings in which we have to throw the bad away. Let no man be surprised if the tares grow up with the wheat — if there be wolves in sheep's clothing — it always will be so. There was a Judas among the twelve. Not so in the invisible Church. In that there is none to throw away. No; the Lord who brought them into the net brought the right sort in.
5. In the first case, in the visible Church the net breaks. No doubt it is a bad thing for nets to break; but you need not wonder at it. It is the necessary consequence of our being what we are. Instead of having some one denomination, we have twenty or thirty? I do not grieve over it. For until you get a set of perfect men, you never will have anything but these divisions. But the net does not break in reality, for the invisible Church is one. Take care of the fish and leave the net alone, but still maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of perfectness.
6. In the first case, you see human weakness; there is the boat ready to sink, the net broken, the men all out of heart, begging the Master to go away. In the other ease, they are made strong, dragging the fish to shore. So in the visible Church you will often have to mourn over human weakness: but in the invisible Church God will make His servants just strong enough to drag their fish to shore.
7. In the first case, in the visible Church they launched out into the deep. In the second case, they were not far from the shore. So today 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, it is finished.
8. 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 banquet which He had spread. So in the visible Church we have to bear trial and self-denial for Christ, but the eye of faith perceives that we shall soon sit down and feast in the kingdom of God.
III. THE LESSON WHICH THE TWO NARRATIVES IN COMMON SEEM TO TEACH. In the first case, Christ was in the ship. Christ is in His Church, though she launch out into the deep. In the second case, Christ was on the shore. Christ is in heaven. But whether He be in the Church, or in heaven, all our night's toiling shall, by His presence, have a rich reward. This is the lesson. Mother, will you learn it? You have been toiling long for your children. It has been night with you as yet. Your night's toiling shall have an end; you shall at last cast the net on the right side of the ship. Sunday-school teacher, minister, church, the night is far spent, and the Master shall soon appear; and His advent shall bring success.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.