This passage of story fell, in order of time, before the two miracles we had in the close of the foregoing chapter, and is the same with that which was more briefly related by Matthew and Mark, of Christ’s calling Peter and Andrew to be fishers of men, Matt. 4:18; Mark 1:16. They had not related this miraculous draught of fishes at that time, having only in view the calling of his disciples; but Luke gives us that story as one of the many signs which Jesus did in the presence of his disciples, which had not been written in the foregoing books, John 20:30, 31. Observe here,
I. What vast crowds attended Christ’s preaching: The people pressed upon him to hear the word of God (Luke 5:1), insomuch that no house would contain them, but he was forced to draw them out to the strand, that they might be reminded of the promise made to Abraham, that his seed should be as the sand upon the sea shore (Gen. 22:17), and yet of them but a remnant shall be saved, Rom. 9:27. The people flocked about him (so the word signifies); they showed respect to his preaching, though not without some rudeness to his person, which was very excusable, for they pressed upon him. Some would reckon this a discredit to him, to be thus cried up by the vulgar, when none of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him; but he reckoned it an honour to him, for their souls were as precious as the souls of the grandees, and it is his aim to bring not so much the mighty as the many sons to God. It was foretold concerning him that to him shall the gathering of the people be. Christ was a popular preacher; and though he was able, at twelve, to dispute with the doctors, yet he chose, at thirty, to preach to the capacity of the vulgar. See how the people relished good preaching, though under all external disadvantages: they pressed to hear the word of God; they could perceive it to be the word of God, by the divine power and evidence that went along with it, and therefore they coveted to hear it.
II. What poor conveniences Christ had for preaching: He stood by the lake of Gennesareth (Luke 5:1), upon a level with the crowd, so that they could neither see him nor hear him; he was lost among them, and, every one striving to get near him, he was crowded, and in danger of being crowded into the water: what must he do? It does not appear that his hearers had any contrivance to give him advantage, but there were two ships, or fishing boats, brought ashore, one belonging to Simon and Andrew, the other to Zebedee and his sons, Luke 5:2. At first, Christ saw Peter and Andrew fishing at some distance (so Matthew tells us, Luke 4:18); but he waited till they came to land, and till the fishermen, that is, the servants, were gone out of them having washed their nets, and thrown them by for that time: so Christ entered into that ship that belonged to Simon, and begged of him that he would lend it him for a pulpit; and, though he might have commanded him, yet, for love’s sake, he rather prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land, which would be the worse for his being heard, but Christ would have it so, that he might the better be seen; and it is his being lifted up that draws men to him. Wisdom cries in the top of high places, Prov. 8:2. It intimates that Christ had a strong voice (strong indeed, for he made the dead to hear it), and that he did not desire to favour himself. There he sat down, and taught the people the good knowledge of the Lord.
III. What a particular acquaintance Christ, hereupon, fell into with these fishermen. They had had some conversation with him before, which began at John’s baptism (John 1:40, 41); they were with him at Cana of Galilee (John 2:2), and in Judea (John 4:3); but as yet they were not called to attend him constantly, and therefore here we have them at their calling, and now it was that they were called into a more intimate fellowship with Christ.
1. When Christ had done preaching, he ordered Peter to apply himself to the business of his calling again: Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets, Luke 5:4. It was not the sabbath day, and therefore, as soon as the lecture was over, he set them to work. Time spent on week-days in the public exercises of religion may be but little hindrance to us in time, and a great furtherance to us in temper of mind, in our worldly business. With what cheerfulness may we go about the duties of our calling when we have been in the mount with God, and from thence fetch a double blessing into our worldly employments, and thus have them sanctified to us by the word and prayer! It is our wisdom and duty so to manage our religious exercises as that they may befriend our worldly business, and so to manage our worldly business as that it may be no enemy to our religious exercises.
2. Peter having attended upon Christ in his preaching, Christ will accompany him in his fishing. He staid with Christ at the shore, and now Christ will launch out with him into the deep. Note, Those that will be constant followers of Christ shall have him a constant guide to them.
3. Christ ordered Peter and his ship’s crew to cast their nets into the sea, which they did, in obedience to him, though they had been hard at it all night, and had caught nothing, Luke 5:4, 5. We may observe here,
(1.) How melancholy their business had now been: “Master, we have toiled all the night, when we should have been asleep in our beds, and have taken nothing, but have had our labour for our pains.” One would have thought that this should have excused them from hearing the sermon; but such a love had they to the word of God that it was more refreshing and reviving to them, after a wearisome night, than the softest slumbers. But they mention it to Christ, when he bids them go a fishing again. Note, [1.] Some callings are much more toilsome than others are, and more perilous; yet Providence has so ordered it for the common good that there is no useful calling so discouraging but some or other have a genius for it. Those who follow their business, and get abundance by it with a great deal of ease, should think with compassion of those who cannot follow theirs but with a great fatigue, and hardly get a bare livelihood by it. When we have rested all night, let us not forget those who have toiled all night, as Jacob, when he kept Laban’s sheep. [2.] Be the calling ever so laborious, it is good to see people diligent in it, and make the best of it; these fishermen, that were thus industrious, Christ singled out for his favourites. They were fit to be preferred as good soldiers of Jesus Christ who had thus learned to endure hardness. [3.] Even those who are most diligent in their business often meet with disappointments; they who toiled all night yet caught nothing; for the race is not always to the swift. God will have us to be diligent, purely in duty to his command and dependence upon his goodness, rather than with an assurance of worldly success. We must do our duty, and then leave the event to God. [4.] When we are tired with our worldly business, and crossed in our worldly affairs, we are welcome to come to Christ, and spread our case before him, who will take cognizance of it.
(2.) How ready their obedience was to the command of Christ: Nevertheless, at thy word, I will let down the net. [1.] Though they had toiled all night, yet, if Christ bid them, they will renew their toil, for they know that they who wait on him shall renew their strength, as work is renewed upon their hands; for every fresh service they shall have a fresh supply of grace sufficient. [2.] Though they have taken nothing, yet, if Christ bid them let down for a draught, they will hope to take something. Note, We must not abruptly quit the callings wherein we are called because we have not the success in them we promised ourselves. The ministers of the gospel must continue to let down that net, though they have perhaps toiled long and caught nothing; and this is thank-worthy, to continue unwearied in our labours, though we see not the success of them. [3.] In this they have an eye to the word of Christ, and a dependence upon that: “At thy word, I will let down the net, because thou dost enjoin it, and thou dost encourage it.” We are then likely to speed well when we follow the guidance of Christ’s word.
4. The draught of fish they caught was so much beyond what was ever known that it amounted to a miracle (Luke 5:6): They enclosed a great multitude of fishes, so that their net broke, and yet, which is strange, they did not lose their draught. It was so great a draught that they had not hands sufficient to draw it up; but they were obliged to beckon to their partners, who were at a distance, out of call, to come and help them, Luke 5:7. But the greatest evidence of the vastness of the draught was that they filled both the ships with fish, to such a degree that they overloaded them, and they began to sink, so that the fish had like to have been lost again with their own weight. Thus many an overgrown estate, raised out of the water, returns to the place whence it came. Suppose these ships were but five or six tons a piece, what a vast quantity of fish must there be to load, nay to over-load, them both!
Now by this vast draught of fishes, (1.) Christ intended to show his dominion in the seas as well as on the dry land, over its wealth as over its waves. Thus he would show that he was that Son of man under whose feet all things were put, and particularly the fish of the sea and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea, Ps. 8:8. (2.) He intended hereby to confirm the doctrine he had just now preached out of Peter’s ship. We may suppose that the people on shore, who heard the sermon, having a notion that the preacher was a prophet sent of God, carefully attended his motions afterward, and staid halting about there, to see what he would do next; and this miracle immediately following would be a confirmation to their faith, of his being at least a teacher come from God. (3.) He intended hereby to repay Peter for the loan of his boat; for Christ’s gospel now, as his ark formerly in the house of Obed-edom, will be sure to make amends, rich amends, for its kind entertainment. None shall shut a door or kindle a fire in God’s house for nought, Mal. 1:10. Christ’s recompences for services done to his name are abundant, they are superabundant. (4.) He intended hereby to give a specimen, to those who were to be his ambassadors to the world, of the success of their embassy, that though they might for a time, and in one particular place, toil and catch nothing, yet they should be instrumental to bring in many to Christ, and enclose many in the gospel net.
5. The impression which this miraculous draught of fishes made upon Peter was very remarkable.
(1.) All concerned were astonished, and the more astonished for their being concerned. All the boat’s crew were astonished at the draught of fishes which they had taken (Luke 5:9); they were all surprised; and the more they considered it, and all the circumstances of it, the more they were wonder-struck, I had almost said thunder-struck, at the thought of it, and so were also James and John, who were partners with Simon (Luke 5:10), and who, for aught that appears, were not so well acquainted with Christ, before this, as Peter and Andrew were. Now they were the more affected with it, [1.] Because they understood it better than others did. They that were well acquainted with this sea, and it is probable had plied upon it many years, had never seen such a draught of fishes fetched out of it, nor any thing like it, any thing near it; and therefore they could not be tempted to diminish it, as others might, by suggesting that it was accidental at this time, and what might as well have happened at any time. It greatly corroborates the evidence of Christ’s miracles that those who were best acquainted with them most admired them. [2.] Because they were most interested in it, and benefited by it. Peter and his part-owners were gainers by this great draught of fishes; it was a rich booty for them and therefore it transported them, and their joy was a helper to their faith. Note, When Christ’s works of wonder are to us, in particular, works of grace, then especially they command our faith in his doctrine.
(2.) Peter, above all the rest, was astonished to such a degree that he fell down at Jesus’s knees, as he sat in the stern of his boat, and said, as one in an ecstasy or transport, that knew not where he was or what he said, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord, Luke 5:8. Not that he feared the weight of the fish would sink him because he was a sinful man, but that he thought himself unworthy of the favour of Christ’s presence in his boat, and worthy that it should be to him a matter rather of terror than of comfort. This word of Peter’s came from the same principle with theirs who, under the Old-Testament, so often said that they did exceedingly fear and quake at the extraordinary display of the divine glory and majesty. It was the language of Peter’s humility and self-denial, and had not the least tincture of the devils’ dialect, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? [1.] His acknowledgment was very just, and what it becomes us all to make: I am a sinful man, O Lord. Note, Even the best men are sinful men, and should be ready upon all occasions to own it, and especially to own it to Jesus Christ; for to whom else, but to him who came into the world to save sinners, should sinful men apply themselves? [2.] His inference from it was what might have been just, though really it was not so. If I be a sinful man, as indeed I am, I ought to say, “Come to me, O Lord, or let me come to thee, or I am undone, for ever undone.” But, considering what reason sinful men have to tremble before the holy Lord God and to dread his wrath, Peter may well be excused, if, in a sense of his own sinfulness and vileness, he cried out on a sudden, Depart from me. Note, Those whom Christ designs to admit to the most intimate acquaintance with him he first makes sensible that they deserve to be set at the greatest distance from him. We must all own ourselves sinful men, and that therefore Jesus Christ might justly depart from us; but we must therefore fall down at his knees, to pray him that he would not depart; for woe unto us if he leave us, if the Saviour depart from the sinful man.
6. The occasion which Christ took from this to intimate to Peter (Luke 5:10), and soon after to James and John (Matt. 4:21), his purpose to make them his apostles, and instruments of planting his religion in the world. He said unto Simon, who was in the greatest surprise of any of them at this prodigious draught of fishes, “Thou shalt both see and do greater things than these; fear not; let not this astonish thee; be not afraid that, after having done thee this honour, it is so great that I shall never do thee more; no, henceforth thou shalt catch men, by enclosing them in the gospel net, and that shall be a greater instance of the Redeemer’s power, and his favour to thee, than this is; that shall be a more astonishing miracle, and infinitely more advantageous than this.” When by Peter’s preaching three thousand souls were, in one day, added to the church, then the type of this great draught of fishes was abundantly answered.
Lastly, The fishermen’s farewell to their calling, in order to their constant attendance on Christ (Luke 5:11): When they had brought their ships to land, instead of going to seek for a market for their fish, that they might make the best hand they could of this miracle, they forsook all and followed him, being more solicitous to serve the interests of Christ than to advance any secular interests of their own. It is observable that they left all to follow Christ, when their calling prospered in their hands more than ever it had done and they had had uncommon success in it. When riches increase, and we are therefore most in temptation to set our hearts upon them, then to quit them for the service of Christ, this is thank-worthy.