And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. 3 And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. 4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. 5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. 6 And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. 7 And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: 10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. 11 And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him (Luke 5: 1-11).
We should observe, thirdly, in this passage – how much a sense of God’s presence abases man and makes him feel his sinfulness. We see this strikingly illustrated by Peter’s words, when the miraculous catch of fish convinced him that One greater than man was in his boat. We read that “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
In measuring these words of Peter, we must of course remember the time at which they were spoken. He was, at best, but a babe in grace – weak in faith, weak in experience, and weak in knowledge. At a later period in his life he would, doubtless, have said, “Abide with me,” and not, “Depart.”
But still, after every deduction of this kind, the words of Peter exactly express the first feelings of man – when he is brought into anything like close contact with God. The sight of divine greatness and holiness – makes him feel strongly his own littleness and sinfulness. Like Adam after the fall – his first thought is to hide himself. Like Israel under Sinai – the language of his heart is, “let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Ex. 20: 19).
Let us strive to know more and more, every year we live – our need of a mediator between ourselves and God. Let us seek more and more to realise that without a mediator, our thoughts of God can never be comfortable – and the more clearly we see God, the more uncomfortable we must feel. Above all, let us be thankful that we have in Jesus the very Mediator whose help our souls require – and that through Him we may draw near to God with boldness, and cast fear away.
Out of Christ, God is a consuming fire!
In Christ, He is a reconciled Father!
Without Christ, the strictest moralist may well tremble, as he ponders his final destiny. Through Christ, the chief of sinners may approach God with confidence, and feel perfect peace.
We should observe, lastly, in this passage – the mighty promise which Jesus holds out to Peter: “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” That promise, we may well believe, was not intended for Peter only – but for all the Apostles; and not for all the Apostles only – but for all faithful ministers of the Gospel who walk in the Apostles’ steps. It was spoken for their encouragement and consolation. It was intended to support them under that sense of weakness and unprofitableness – by which they are sometimes almost overwhelmed. They certainly have a “treasure in earthen vessels” (II Cor. 4: 7).
They are men of like passions with others. They find their own hearts weak and frail – like the hearts of any of their hearers. They are often tempted to give up in despair, and to leave off preaching. But here stands a promise, on which the great Head of the Church would have them daily lean, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
Let us pray daily for all ministers – that they may be true successors of Peter and his brethren – that they may preach the same full and free Gospel which they preached, and live the same holy lives which they lived. These are the only ministers who will ever prove successful fishermen. To some of them God may give more honour, and to others less. But all true and faithful preachers of the Gospel, have a right to believe that their labour shall not prove in vain. They may often preach the Word with many tears, and see no result of their labour. But God’s word shall not return void (Isa. 55: 11).
The last day shall show that no sincere work for God was ever wasted. Every faithful fisherman shall find his Master’s words made good, “Thou shalt catch men.”