Luke 5Here observe, 1. That our Saviour used the sea as well as the land in his passage from place to place to preach the gospel; and the reasons why he did so might probably be these:
1. To show Nature's intent in making of the sea: namely, to be sailed upon, as the land to be walked upon.
2. That Christ might take occasion to manifest his Deity, in working miracles upon the sea: namely, by calming of the waves and stilling of the winds.
3. It might be to comfort sea-faring men in their distresses, and to encourage them to pray to such a Saviour as had an experiemental knowledge of the dangers of the sea: it were well if sailors would consider this, and instead of inuring themselves to the language of hell when they go down into the deep, would direct their prayer unto Christ, and look up to him; who now in heaven has the remembrance of what he himself endured and underwent here on earth, and on the sea.
Observe, 2. The circumstance of time, when Christ used to put forth to sea: it was usually after he had wrought some extraordinary miracle, which set them on admiring and commending of him; as after he had fed so many thousands, with a few barley loaves and fishes, presently he put forth to sea, shunning thereby all popularity and vain-glorious applause from the multitude which he was never ambitious of, but industriously avoided.
Observe, 3. That after our Saviour's resurrection, we never find him sailing any more upon the seas. For such a fluctuating and turbulent condition, which necessarily attends sea voyages, was utterly inconsistent with the constancy, stability, and perpetuity, of Christ's estate when risen from the grave. The firm land better agreeing with his fixed state, he keeps upon it, till his ascension into heaven.
Observe, 4. That Christ scruples not to preach to the people in, and out of the ship: He sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Sometimes we find our holy Lord preaching upon a mountain, sometimes in a ship, sometimes in a house, as often as may be in a synagogue. He that laid hold of all seasons for preaching the gospel, never scrupled any place which conveniency offered to preach in; well knowing that it is the ordinance that sanctifies the place, and not the place the ordinance.
Observe here, 1. Our Saviour having delivered his doctrine to the people, confirms his doctrine with a miracle, and with such a miracle as did at once instruct and encourage his apostles; the miraculous number of fish which they caught did presage and prefigure their miraculous success in preaching, planting, and propagating, the gospel.
Observe, 2. Our Saviour's command to Peter, and his ready compliance with Christ's command: Let down your nets for a draught, says Christ: We have toiled all night, says St. Peter, and caught nothing: nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net.
This mystically represents to us. 1. That the fishers of men may labor all night, and all day too, and catch nothing.
This is sometimes the fisherman's fault, but oftener the fishes'. It is the fisher's fault that nothing is taken, if he doth only play upon the sands, and not launch out into the deep; deliver some superficial and less necessary truths, without opening to the people the great mysteries of godliness. If they fish with broken nets, either deliver unsound doctrine, or lead unexemplary lives. If they do not cast the net on the right side of the ship: that is, rightly divide the word, as workmen that need not to be ashamed.
And if they do not fish at Christ's command, but run a fishing unsent, it is then no wonder that they labor all their days and catch nothing. But very often it is the fishes' fault, rather than the fisherman's: worldly men are crafty and cunning, they will not come near the net; hypocrites are slippery, like eels, the fishermen cannot long hold them, but they dart into their holes; priding themselves in their external performances, and satisfying themselves with a round of duties.
The great men of the world break through the net, the divine commands cannot bind them. I will go to the great men, and speak to them; but they have broken the yoke, and burst the bonds. Jer 5:5
Observe, 3. The miraculous success which St. Peter had, when at Christ's command he let down the net: They inclosed such a multitude of fishes that their net brake.
Two things our Saviour aimed at in this miracle, 1. To manifest to his disciples the power of his Godhead, that they might not be offended at the poverty and meanness of his manhood.
2. To assure them of the great success which his apostles and their successors might expect in planting and propagating of the gospel. If the ministers of Christ, whom he calls fishers of men, be faithful in the cast, his power shall be magnified in the draught.
Some of our fish will cleave eternally to the rocks, others play upon the sands, more will wallow in the mud, and continue all their days in the filth of sin, if our Master at whose command we let down the net, does not inclose them in it, as well as assist us in the casting of it.
Observe, 4. What influence the sight of this miracle had upon St. Peter: it occasioned fear and amazement, and caused him to adore Christ, and declare himself unworthy of his presence; Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. Not that the good man was weary of Christ's presence, but acknowledged himself unworthy of it. It is a great discovery of our holiness, to revere God, and fear before him, when he does wonderuful things before us, though they be wonders of love and mercy: here was a wonderful appearance of Christ's power and mercy to St. Peter, but it affects him with a reverential fear and awful astonishment.
Observe, 5. How St. Peter and the rest of the apostles, at Christ's call, forsook all and followed him: they left father and friends, ships and nets, and followed Jesus. Whom Christ calls, he calls effectually; he draws whom he calls, and works their heart to a ready compliance to their duty. And although when they were first called to be disciples, they followed their trades of fishing for a time, yet upon their second call to the apostleship, they left off their trade, and forsook all to follow the ministry; teaching the minsters of the gospel, that it is their duty to give themselves wholly up to their great work, and not to encumber themselves with secular affairs and worldy business.
Nothing but an indispensable nccessity in providing for a family can excuse a minister's incumbering himself with worldly concerns and business: They forsook all, and followed Jesus.
Observe here, 1. The petitioner, that in a very humble and submissive manner sues unto Christ for cure and healing: A leper fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
He does not question Christ's power, but distrusts his willingness to help and heal him. Christ's divine power must be fully assented to, and firmly believed, by all those that expect benefit by him, and healing from him.
Observe, 2. The great readiness of Christ to help and heal this distressed person: Jesus touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean.
By the ceremonial law, the leper was forbidden to be touched; therefore Christ touching this leper, shows himself to be above the law; that he was the Lord of it, and might dispense with it. And his healing this leper, by the word of his mouth and the touch of his hand, showed him to be truly and really sent of God; for leprosy among the Jews was accounted an incurable distemper, called the finger of God; a disease of his sending, and of his removing.
Our Saviour, therefore, as a proof of his being the Messiah, tells John's disciples, That the lepers were cleansed, and the dead raised by him; Matt 11:5 which two being joined together, do imply, that the cleansing of the leper is as much an act of divine power, as the raising of the dead; and accordingly, it is said, Am I God, that this man sends unto me to cure a person of his leprosy? 2Kgs 5:7
Observe, 3. The certainty and the suddenness of the cure was a farther proof of Christ's divine power; Immediately the leprosy departed. Christ not only cured him immediately, but instantaneously; not only without means, but without the ordinary time required for such a cure. Thus Christ showed both power and will to cure him miraculously, who believed his power, but questioned his willingness.
Observe, 4. A twofold charge and command given by Christ to the leper.
1. To tell it to no man. Where the great modesty, piety, and humility of our Saviour are discovered, together with the prudent care he took of his own safety: his modesty, in concealing his own praises; his humility, in shunning all vain-glorious applause and commendation; his piety, in referring all the honor and glory to God his Father; and the care of his own safety appeared, lest the publishing of his miracle should create untimely danger from the Pharisees.
2. The next part of the charge given to the recovered leper, is, to go and show himself to the priest, and to offer the gift which Moses commanded for a testimony unto them; that is, to testify to the Jews, that he did not oppose the ceremonial law, which required a thank- offering at his hand; and also that the miracle might testify that he was the true and promised Messiah.
Learn hence, that our blessed Saviour would have the ceremonial law punctually observed, so long as the time of its continuance did endure; though he came to destroy that law, yet while it stood he would have it exactly observed. See note on St. Matt 8:2
The duty of private and solitary prayer is not more strictly enjoined by our Saviour's command, than it is recommended to us by his example.
Observe, 1. The duty which our holy Lord performed: prayer. We have much more business with God in prayer than Christ had; he had no sins to be humbled for, nor beg pardon of; no need to pray for any sanctifying habits of grace, the Holy Spirit being given to him without measure; yet did our holy Lord spend much of his time in prayer; he took delight in paying this homage to his heavenly Father.
Observe, 2. What kind of prayer our Lord did eminently delight in: it was solitary and private prayer. He often went alone, even out of the hearing of his own disciples. The company of our best friends is not always seasonable nor acceptable. There are times and seasons when a Christian would not be willing that his dearest relations upon earth should hear that conversation which passes between him and his God.
Observe, 3. The place our Lord withdraws to for private prayer; it is the desert; he withdrew into the wilderness and prayed, both to avoid ostentation, and also to enjoy communion with his Father. The modest Bridegroom of his church, says St. Bernard, will not impart himself so freely to his spouse before company. That our Saviour rose up a great while before day, and went into this desert place to pray. Mr 1:35
Teaching us, that the morning is the fit season, yea, the best of seasons, for private duties; now are our spirits freshest, and our spirits freest, before the distractions of the day break is upon us. It is certainly much better to go from prayer to business, than from business to prayer.
Note lastly, that our blessed Saviour had no idle hours here in this world; his time did not lie upon his hands as ours do; he was always either preaching or praying, or working miracles; either paying homage to God or doing good to man.
Lord, help us to imitate this thy instructive example, by embracing all opportunities of glorifying God, and doing good to one another.
As the great end of our Saviour's miracles was to confirm his doctrine, so commonly after his preaching he wrought his miracles. The scribes and Pharisees, though they had no love for our Saviour's person, nor value for his ministry, yet they frequently accompanied him wherever he went, partly to cavil at his doctrine, and partly out of curiousity to see his miracles: but observe the gracious condescension of our Saviour; although he well knew that the Pharisees at this time attended upon him with no good intention, yet he puts forth his divine power in working miracles before them: The power of the Lord was present to heal. Not that Christ's power was at any time absent but it is said now to be present, because it was now exerted and put forth at his will and pleasure.
And accordingly at this time, before the Pharisee's eyes, he miraculously cures a person sick of the palsy, as the paragraph before us does inform us.
Wherein observe, 1. The diseased and distressed person, one sick of the palsy, which being a resolution and weakness of the nerves, enfeebles the joints, and confines a person to his bed or couch. As a demonstration of Christ's divine power, he was pleased to single out the palsy and leprosy, incurable diseases, to work a cure upon. Now this person was so great a cripple, by reason of the palsy, that he could not go, nor be led, but was carried in his bed or couch.
Observe, 2. As the grievousness of the disease, so the greatness of the people's faith. The man and his friends had a firm and full persuasion, that Christ was clothed with a divine power, and able to help him; and they hope in his goodness, that he was willing as well as able.
And accordingly, the roof of the Jewish houses being flat, they uncover some part of it, and let the bed down with the sick man in it, and lay him at the foot of Christ, in hopes of help and healing.
Observe, 3. That no sooner did they exercise their faith in believing, but Christ exerts his divine power in healing: yet the object of their faith probably was not Christ's divine power as God, but they looked upon him as an extraordinary prophet, to whom God had communicated such a divine power as Elijah and Elisha had before him. Yet, see the marvelous efficacy even of this faith, which obtained not only what was desired, but more than was expected. They desired only the healing of the body, but Christ heals body and soul too, saying, Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee. Thereby our Saviour, signifies to them, that sin is the meritorious cause of sickness, and consequently, that in sickness the best way to find ease and deliverance from pain, is first to seek for pardon; for the sins of pardon will in some degree take away the sense of pain.
Observe, 4. The exception which the Pharisees take against our Saviour for pronouncing that this man's sins were forgiven him: they charge him with blasphemy, urging, that it is God's peculiar prerogative to pardon sin. Indeed their proposition was true, but their application was false. Nothing more true, than that it is the highest blasphemy for any mere man to arrogate and assume to himself the incommunicable property of God, absolutely and authoritatively to forgive sin. But then their denying this power to Christ of forgiving sins, which he had as God from all eternity, and as mediator, God and man in one person, when here on earth; this was blasphemy in them; but the assuming and challenging in it, none in him.
Observe, 5. To cure, if possible, the obstinacy and blindness of the Pharisees, our Saviour gives them a two fold demonstration of his Godhead;
1. By letting them understand that he knew their thoughts, Jesus perceived their thoughts, Luke 5:22 To know the thoughts, to search the hearts, and understand the reasonings of men, is not in the power of angels or men, but the prerogative of God only.
2. By assuming to himself a power to forgive sins: for our Saviour here, by taking upon him to forgive sins in his own name and by his own authority, does give the world an undeniable proof, and a convincing evidence, of his Godhead: for who can forgive sins but God only?
Observe, 6. The effect which this miracle had upon the minds of the people: they marvelled and were amazed, were filled with fear, but not with faith; astonished, but did not believe.
Learn hence, that the sight of Christ's own miracles is not sufficient to work faith in the soul, without the efficacious grace of God; the one may make us marvel, the other must make us believe.
The number of our Lord's apostles not being filled up, observe 1. What a free and gracious, what an unexpected and undeserved choice Christ makes. Levi, that is Matthew, (for he had both names,) a grinding publican, who gathered the tax for the Roman emperor, and was probably guilty, as others were, of the sins of covetousness and extortion, yet he is called to follow Christ, as a special disciple.
Learn hence, that such is the freeness of divine grace,that it sometimes calls and converts sinners unto Christ, when they think not of him, nor seek unto him. Little did Levi now think of a Saviour, much less seek after him, yet he is here called by him, and that with an efficacious call: Matthew, a publican; Zaccheus, an extortioner; Saul, a persecutor; all these are effectually called by Christ, as instances and evidences of the mighty power of converting grace.
Observe, 2. Levi's or Matthew's ready compliance with Christ's call: He presently arose and followed him. Where the inward call of the Holy Spirit accompanies the outward call of the word, the soul readily complies and yields obedience to the voice of Christ. Our Saviour, says the pious bishop Hall, speaks by his word to our ears, and we hear not, we stir not; but when he speaks by his spirit efficaciously to our heart, Satan cannot hold us down, the world shall not keep us back; but we shall with Levi instantly rise and follow our Saviour.
Observe, 3. Levi, to show his thankfulness to Christ, makes him a great feast. Christ invited Levi to a dicipleship, Levi invites Christ to a dinner; the servant invites his Master, a sinner invites his Saviour; a better guest he could not invite, Christ always comes with his cost with him. We do not find that when Christ was invited to any table, he ever refused to go; if a publican, if a Pharisee, invited him, he constantly went; not so much for the pleasure of eating, as for an opportunity of conversing and doing good; Christ feasts us when we feed him. Levi, to give Christ a pledge and specimen of his love, makes him a feast.
Learn thence, that new converts are full of affection towards Christ, and very expressive of their love unto him. Levi's heart being touched with a sense of Christ's rich love, makes him a royal feast.
Observe, 4. The cavil and exception which the scribes and Pharisees made at our Lord's free conversation. They censur him for conversing with sinners. Malice will never want matter of accusation. Our Saviour justifies himself, telling them he conversed with sinners as their physician, not as their companion: They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
As if our Lord had said, "With whom should a physician converse but with sick patients! And is he to be accused for that? Now this is my case. I am come into the world to do the office of a kind physician unto men: surely then I am to take all opportunities of conversing with them, that I may help and heal them, for they that are sick need the physician; but as for you scribes and Pharisees, who are well and whole in our own opinion and conceit, I have no hopes of doing good upon you; for such as think themselves whole desire not the physician's help."
Now from this assertion of our Saviour, The whole need not the physician, but the sick.
These truths are suggested to us:
1. That sin is the soul's malady, its spiritual disease and sickness.
2. That Christ is the physician appointed by God for the cure and healing of this disease.
3. That there are multitudes of sinners spiritually sick, who yet think themselves sound and whole.
4. That such, and only such as find themselves sin-sick, and spiritually diseased, are subjects capable of Christ's healing: They that are whole need not the physician, but they that are sick. I come not, says Christ, to call the (opinionatively) righteous, but the (sensible) sinner, to repentance.
An objection is here made against the disciples of our Saviour, that they did not fast so much and so often, as John Baptist's disciples did. John's disciples imitated their master, who was a man of an austere life; Christ's disciples imitated him who was of a more free conversation.
Observe, therefore, our Saviour's defense, which he makes for the not fasting of his disciples; he declares, that at present it was neither suitable nor tolerable; not suitable, in regard of Christ's bodily presence with them, who being their bridegroom, and his disciples children of the bride-chamber, it was now a day of joy and rejoicing to them, and mourning and fasting would be very improper for them. But when the bridegroom shall be taken away, that is, Christ's bodily presence removed, then there will be cause enough for the disciples to fast and mourn.
Learn hence, 1. That Jesus Christ is the bridegroom of his spouse the church.
2. That this bridegroom was to be taken away.
3. That because of the bridegroom's removal, the church did, shall, and must fast: The days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away, then shall they fast.
Again our Saviour declares, that this discipline of fasting was not at present tolerable for his disciples, for they were at present but raw, green, and tender, unable to bear the severities and rigors of religion, any more than an old garment can be a piece of new cloth to be set into it, or any more than old bottles can bear new wine to be put into them. The sense of our Saviour's words seems to be this, "My disciples at present are tender and weak, newly called and converted, they cannot therefore at present undergo the austerities of relgion, fastings, weepings, and watchfulness; but before long I shall leave them, and go to heaven, from whence I will send down my Holy Spirit upon them, which will enable them to all the duties that the gospel enjoins."
The lesson of instruction which we may probably gather from hence, is this, that it is hurtful and dangerous for young converts, for weak Christians, to be put upon the severe exercises of religion, or to be urged to the performance of all such duties as are above their strength, but they ought to be treated with that tenderness which becomes the mild and gentle dispensation of the gospel.
Our Saviour, says one, does here commend prudence to his ministers, in treating their people according to their strength, and putting them upon duties according to their time and standing. We must consult what progress our people have made in Christianity, and manage accordingly.
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