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§ 114. The Miraculous Draught of Fishes.—Effect of the Miracle on Peter.
ON his return to Galilee Christ at once began his labours as a teacher; not, however, in the synagogues, but in instructing the groups that gathered around him. He betook himself first, not to Nazareth, his native place, where he could least hope to be received as a prophet (the carnal mind looks only at the outward appearance), but to the little town of Capernaum. The young men who had accompanied him from Peraea were from the neighbourhood of Capernaum and Bethsaida; and he only waited for a suitable opportunity to take them into closer communion. Such an opportunity was the following:
One day, as he was walking upon the western shore of the Sea of Genesareth, an increasing throng of eager listeners collected about him. Some fishermen who had toiled all night and brought up nothing but empty nets, had left their vessels fastened near the shore. Jesus asked Simon, to whom one of the fishing-boats belonged, to push it out a little way from the shore, that he might stand on board, and thus address the people to better advantage.250250 A comparison of Luke, v., with Matt., iv., 18, will vindicate the correctness of this representation. Here we have two independent statements: that in Matthew an abbreviated one, while Luke’s is the vivid and circumstantial account of an eye-witness. The words of Christ to Peter, as given by Matthew (iv., 19), “I will make you fishers of men,” seem to presuppose an event such as the miraculous draught of fishes; but Matthew presents them as entirely isolated, while Luke gives the occasion of them very graphically. None but those abstractionists who must measure all phenomena, however infinite in variety, upon the Procrustean bed of their own logical formulas, will see in this account the stamp of a legendary story. It has all the freshness of life and reality about it. Whoever is well read in the history of the diffusion of Christianity in all ages will be able to recall many analogous cases. Schleiermacher (Comm. on Luke, in loc., or “Werke,” ii., 53), in his remarks on this case, showed with what nice tact he could distinguish history from legend. Honour to the memory of that great man, whose profoundly logical mind humbled itself, in pure love of Truth, before the power of History! On finishing his discourse, he turned to Peter, who doubtless was anew struck with the power of his words, and told him to cast his net into the deep. Although he had toiled all night in vain, he obeyed the Master at a word. This full confidence of Peter shows that he had already been impressed to some extent, at least, with the Divinity of Christ.251251 It also confirms the account in John’s Gospel. The connexion of the narrative which I have given abundantly shows that Matthew’s account is not irreconcilable with Luke’s, or both with John’s, as some suppose. I do not mean to say, however, that the connexion thus made by comparing all the accounts was present to the minds of the writers severally, for in that case, doubtless, the form of their narratives would have been different from what it is now. Such discrepancies can surprise no man who has attempted to gather a connected narrative of any kind from several distinct accounts. An impression of the most powerful character, however, must have been made upon him (as a fisherman) by the wonderful result of this once letting down of his net, after the vain attempts of the long night before. The manifestation of the Divine power to him in the exercise of his own trade was characteristic of the Divine operations generally in the history of Christianity; he was thus led from the Carnal to the Spiritual.252252 Those who believe in a Divine teleological government of the world, in a Providence which makes Nature subserve the progress of the kingdom of God, must regard this event as one of those in which the border line between the natural and supernatural is hard to be distinguished, and which form the point of transition from the former to the latter. All his previous impressions were revived and deepened by this sudden exhibition of the power of a word from Christ, and the Saviour appeared so exalted that he felt himself unworthy to be near him [“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”]253253 On account of this peculiar relation between Christ and Peter, we can hardly suppose (although much may be said in favour of it) that this event occurred after he had known Christ for some time, or after he had been a witness of his first public labours at Jerusalem so, also, we cannot, for the same reason, place it after the wedding at Cana; although this last is more probable than the other, since we cannot say certainly what impressions the occurrences at Cana made, at first, upon the disciples. The view which we have followed in the text seems to be contradicted by the connexion between John, i., 43, and 46; but there is no real contradiction. The calling of Nathanael (John, i., 46) and that of Philip (i., 43) are not necessarily connected in place and time. John mentions an intended return to Galilee (v. 43), but says nothing about the journey itself; he may have been induced, by the mention of Bethsaida, to place the theatre of the account in that region. (See Bleek, Stud. u. Krit., 1833, ii.) The late B. Jacobi (in the same periodical, 1838, iv., 852) adduces against this view John’s accuracy, in this passage, in mentioning time and place. It is not clear, however, that John meant to give, in each case in the chapter, the time and place exactly. His exactness extends only to the events which served to lead John’s disciples to Christ; and it is not at all evident that Nathanael belonged to that number. The way in which Philip describes the Messiah to him, saying nothing of the Baptist’s testimony, rather shows the contrary. Moreover, the opposite view would prove that Nathanael was first found in Galilee. The Divine power appears fearful, in its holiness, to the sinner who is conscious of his sinfulness it fills him with consternation; he shrinks back from it with trembling Infinite, indeed, in view of the law, must the chasm appear between the sinner and the Divinely exalted Holy One.254254 The truth of this individual trait, as narrated of Peter, is confirmed by the subsequent developement of his character, The consciousness of his sinfulness and distance from the perfectly Holy One must, indeed, have remained; and his sense of the loftiness of Christ could be diminished by no degree of intimacy with him. But there was this great difference between the two periods of his religious life, that in the latter, as he imbibed more and more the spirit of communion with Christ, he felt himself no more repelled as a sinner from Him in whom the source of Divine life for men was revealed, but attracted to him, not merely by his own spiritual affinities, but by his personal experience, that He “had the words of eternal life.” The redeeming power of the Divine One was more and more fully revealed to him; the Divinity appeared to him no more as a merely outward, but as an inward power. The central source of all the individual rays of Divinity shone forth upon his consciousness, and the separate rays of themselves, therefore, appeared in a new light.
Christ seized upon this impression, and, glorifying the Physical into the Spiritual, by his prophetic explanation of the phenomenon, said to Peter [Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men]: “Shrink not back in fear. Take confidence in me. Attach thyself henceforth wholly to me. Thou shalt see greater proofs of my power than this. In fellowship with me thou shalt achieve greater miracles. From henceforth thy net shall catch men.”
The same impression, also, caused Andrew, James, and John255255 Luke says (v. 10) that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were “partners with Simon;” they were, therefore, eye-witnesses of that event, and received the same impression from it. In Matthew’s statement (iv., 21) they were with their father, in another vessel, “mending their nets.” This agrees well enough with Luke, since he likewise mentions two vessels, and—not, indeed, the mending, but—the washing of the much-used nets. to join themselves from thenceforth more closely to Jesus.
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