By the Lake of Galilee
George Everard, 1884
"He said to Simon: Launch out into the deep waters, and let down your nets for a catch."
Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Depart from me, O Lord; I am a sinful man!" Luke 5:4-8
A few fishermen are standing, on the shore. It is early in the day, and these men have passed a night of fruitless toil. All night long have they been casting in the net — and yet they have caught nothing to reward their efforts. So mending and washing their nets, they prepare at the right time to renew their work.
But One comes near whose work is a counterpart of their own. He, too, casts in His net, and in preaching the gospel seeks to draw many to Himself. He enters into the boat of Simon, and there speaks to the people assembled near. Then He bids the fishermen go forth again, and let down their nets for a catch. At His command, they gladly put forth.
The word of the Master is enough. They have begun to learn His power, and they shall learn it still more. All things obey His will. The birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the fish of the sea — must all fulfill His purpose. So do they find it here by the lake. Never, for many a long day, had they such a haul. The net was full to overflowing. One boat is insufficient to receive the spoil. So they beckon to their partners who were in the other ship that they should come and help them.
Then a holy awe steals over tie mind of Peter. He catches a glimpse of Christ's majesty and glory. He feels himself utterly unworthy of such a Presence. "Who is this Mighty One? Who is this that has power over all that passes through the paths of the deep? And who am I, so sinful and polluted, that I shall abide near such a one? Depart from me, O Lord; I am a sinful man!" But Christ reassures him. Fear not, you are mine, you shall not perish. Nay, more. You shall be a fellow-worker with me. Henceforth a nobler toil than heretofore shall engage your thought. You shall catch men, and so grasp them as to save them to life eternal.
So Christ prevailed over the fish of the sea, yes, and over the fishermen too. For He caught them and secured them in His net of love. They became willing captives of Him who called them. For they rose, and forsook all, and followed Him.
Let us go back in thought to that scene by the lake. Let us think of Him who there manifested His power. Let us think of the men in their boats and their plentiful supply of fish — and then speak to our hearts the LESSONS it may all teach us.
1. Think of the considerate bounty of our gracious Master.It was one of the beautiful features of our Lord's character. He was ever thoughtful and considerate of the needs, feelings, troubles, and anxieties of those around Him. Through those days that He tarried before He went to the grave of Bethany — He was even thinking of the sisters in their deep grief. When at the marriage feast at Cana wine was lacking — He did not fail to supply them. And now that Simon has lent Him his boat for a time — he shall be no loser. A rich and bountiful reward shall be his. A catch of fish shall recompense him which would amply have rewarded the toil of a week.
Never, never imagine you can be a loser by anything you willingly yield to Christ. Nothing done for Christ, given to Him, or suffered for His sake — but shall come back in rich blessing. Time, money, labor, effort spent in His cause — all will be abundantly repaid. Not seldom will it return in comfort and prosperity and honor on earth — but always in peace of mind and treasure in Heaven.
And learn another lesson here. Be very considerate for others. Take no labor, without giving fair remuneration. Think of the necessities, the temptations, the difficulties, the trials of those around you. Beware of forgetting things that need to be done. Be considerate of the feelings of those who live with you. Never drop words of vitriol, words that may burn, irritate, and vex the husband, the wife, the brother, or the sister at your fireside.
Be considerate for the souls of others. Let servants have opportunities for worship on Sundays and on week days. Think of our postmen, our railway servants, our cabmen — and do what you can to reach them with the Word of God. Be considerate for the poor and the sick. Study how you may wisely alleviate their misery and need. No one can tell the harm that is done by lack of consideration for others. Debts are left unpaid, to the ruin of the creditor; or over-toil is inflicted on those whose health fails under it. In a thousand ways wrong is done, and pain and injury caused, not by any willful purpose of evil — but simply by lack of due thought for those connected with us.
2. The darkest night may usher in the brightest day.Never had these men a night of more fruitless toil, of more utter disappointment — than when our Lord came to them. And never had they more joy in the success of their work, than when He sent them this catch of fish.
Many a dark night may be appointed for you. In temporal matters or in spiritual — dark, weary, sorrowful hours may be yours. Many a heavy burden may be laid upon you, many a secret trial, unknown to any but yourself and your Savior — may cause you fear and anxiety. Many an effort for the good of others may seem in vain. But hope on, and never give up.
Light will arise by and by, though the night may be long and dreary. Wait patiently, persevere in prayer — and all shall yet be for the best. You have learned, like these fishermen, how utterly helpless you are without Christ, and that without Him every effort must fail. You shall learn that Jesus will come in due season, and then He will do beyond your utmost expectation.
"Do you ask — when comes His hour?
Then when it shall aid you best,
Trust His faithfulness and power,
Trust in Him and quietly rest:
Suffer on and hope and wait,
Jesus never comes too late!"
3. A holy awe and fear in Christ's presence is the best preparation for Christian discipleship.
See that strange fear that came over Peter. Why should he thus shrink from Christ's presence? What was the connection between the prey he took out of the lake, and his cry "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" Surely it was Divine grace at work. A consciousness of a Divine glory in Christ, awoke him to a livelier sense of his own sin. It is ever thus with those taught of God.
See Job, the "perfect" man: "Behold, I am vile!" "Now my eye sees You — therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
See the Prophet Isaiah when he saw the vision of Jehovah's majesty: "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips — and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!"
Blessed are those who so fear! Blessed are those who are penetrated through and through with a sense of their own sins and shortcomings! And blessed are those who follow on to know the joy of full pardon and of the favor of Almighty God.
Look at the contrast in Peter at the second catch of fish. He had meanwhile learned to know more of Christ — more of His love — more of His forgiving mercy. And what is the result? At the first catch of fish, he would have Christ depart from him — at the second catch, he is so eager to get near to Christ, that he casts himself into the sea, and swims to shore. Forgiven, saved, conscious of the Savior's free and abounding mercy — perfect love has cast out fear, and now he delights to be near the Savior who has dealt so tenderly with him.
What says your heart? Is there a consciousness of sin, but not yet an assurance of pardon? Or is there a simple indifference about the whole matter?
The heart has been compared to a pendulum vibrating between two points. In many cases you find at times strong convictions, inward dread, a sense of guilt and unpreparedness — which makes it tremble at the thought of death and judgment. But again these all die away, and a still heavier sleep of carelessness pervades the soul.
And if men go no further than this, what is the sure outcome? There is an hour when men can be careless no more. The solemn realities of eternity must break in upon the soul. Then eternal self-reproach, eternal despair, must be to such a one as the worm that never dies.
But learn to know Christ as an all-sufficient Savior. Come to Him as both willing and able to save. Trust Him for full cleansing through His blood, and for the help and grace of His Spirit. Then indifference shall give place to holy zeal — and fear and dread shall be swallowed up in love, joy, and peace — and this shall be the pledge of the eternal blessedness which shall be your portion for evermore.
4. The story gives us a few helpful LESSONS for Christ's fishermen.
Remember there are two fishermen who are ever busily at work.
There is one who by every means strives to catch souls to their utter destruction. He has his co-workers everywhere. He has his nets and lines thrown out in all directions. By ten thousand wily arts, he allures and entices the young and the old, the rich and the poor. There is the bait
the sin that is so sweet to the natural heart,
the hour of carnal mirth and self-indulgence,
the dazzling pursuit of wealth,
the special attraction that leads a man wrong —
and by these means, multitudes of precious souls are snared and taken, and perish.
But there is another Fisherman who is at work also. He too encloses men in the meshes of His net, and holds them fast with bands and cords. But His work is to save and not to destroy. His bands and cords are mercy, grace, and love. He takes them captive that He may preserve them from all evil and bring them to eternal life.
Once I noticed some men catching the fish in a small pond. What was their purpose? The pond was drying up through the heat of summer, and they were taking the fish to place them in a moat always full of fresh, pure water.
Just so, I thought, does Christ take men out of the world, where everything must shortly fail — and places them in the deep ocean of God's eternal love, where they shall be satisfied forever with His joy.
And in this sweet captivity of Christ, there is the only true liberty. He takes men captive, to set them free. He draws them to Himself, that He may deliver them from the bondage of sin. He saves them from the yoke of the enemy. He frees them from a guilty conscience, the power of bad habits, the fear of death, and at length from all the consequences of former evil.
Then, by a strange transformation, the fish whom He has caught, become His fishermen. Peter was caught himself, and then was sent forth to catch others. Those who know the blessedness of His love, join with the Master in letting down the gospel net. Saved souls must become winners of those yet in the deep waters of sin.
So Christ's voice speaks to you if you are His: "Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch." Go down into the sea of carelessness, ungodliness, and sin. Carry with you the gospel message. Go from street to street and from house to house, and tell men of Christ's power to save, and His tender love towards mankind. Go among the sons of toil, go among those in higher position if the door is open. Go among the children and the young folks. And wherever you go, speak bright, helpful words of Jesus, and tell of all His pity and loving-kindness.
And how shall you best do this work?
Fish in all waters, fish in the open sea, in the river, in the quiet stream — as you can. Where you least expect it, you may do the most good. From the most unlikely quarter — you may gain the most precious spoil for Christ's kingdom.
Choose out the most likely seasons — yet reckon no season untimely. Make good use of . . .
times of sickness;
times when sorrow has visited a home;
times of solemn awakening, when the Spirit is abroad;
times when you can get a quiet talk with a man by the wayside;
sacred seasons, like God's holy day, when the heart may be somewhat prepared to receive a word.
A word earnestly spoken amidst the noise and bustle of the world may not be lost. "Instant in season and out of season" ought to be the spirit of every Christian worker.
Fish with the line, when you cannot with the net. You may not be able to preach to fifty or five hundred — but you can drop a word in season to one by your side. God makes great use of personal, individual dealings with souls.
A kindly question,
a striking illustration of truth,
a verse of God's Word,
a home thrust of some kind
— may awaken a sleeper, guide an anxious one, or strengthen and build up one who is weak in the faith.
Never despise the units. One by one God brought to Himself the great multitude which no man can number. Though it is but a little ragged child — never neglect the opportunity of benefitting one soul. Remember Heaven's arithmetic, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Look for definite blessing. A fisherman looks often to his net or his line, and is not satisfied unless fish are taken. And shall we not equally look for distinct blessing on our work? The pastor among his flock, the teacher in the class, the visitor in the district — ought not each and all to pray for and expect plain manifest proofs of the working of God's grace? Do your part faithfully, expect great things from God, and you will not be disappointed.
Imitate the fisher's patience. Peter and the rest had toiled all night, though their toil had been all in vain. I have seen a fisherman on a rainy day stand in the middle of the stream, nor has he gone home until nightfall, that he might make the best of a favorable opportunity. So should Christian workers have long patience, whether or no they see the success they desire. Sometimes the noblest trophies of the gospel have been won, after the work has appeared almost hopeless — as in New Zealand and in China.
Above all, remember that the only sure success is from the presence and blessing of Christ. This was the great lesson of the miracle.
Work without Christ cannot prosper.
Work with Him cannot fail.
It is His power from first to last that effects anything real and abiding. Remember Pentecost. A great catch of fish was indeed that day swept into the net. But how was it? Prayer had been unceasing. Christ was working with the Apostles. The Spirit had descended, and hence the work was done. Therefore look to Christ alone. Lean on His Word and power. He alone can make your work effectual.
"Lord, use me for Your glory,
Whatever the service be.
You are the altar where I lay
The work I do for Thee;
And 'tis that sacred touch of Thee
Which hallows all for me."