Luke Chapter 5
J.C. Ryle, 1858
Section 25. The Miraculous Catch of Fish, Luke 5:1-11
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, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. 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. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at your word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. 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. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: 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 you shall catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
We have, in these verses — the history of what is commonly called the miraculous catch of fish. It is a remarkable miracle on two accounts.
For one thing, it shows us our Lord's complete dominion over the animal creation. The fish of the sea are as much obedient to His will — as the frogs, and flies, and lice, and locusts, in the plagues of Egypt. All are His servants, and all obey His commands.
For another thing, there is a singular similarity between this miracle worked at the beginning of our Lord's ministry, and another which we find Him working after His resurrection, at the end of His ministry, recorded by John. (John 21.) In both we read of a miraculous catch of fish. In both the Apostle Peter has a prominent place in the story. And in both there is, probably — a deep spiritual lesson, lying below the outward surface of the facts described.
We should observe, in this passage — our Lord Jesus Christ's unwearied readiness for every good work. Once more we find Him preaching to a people who "pressed upon Him to hear the word of God." And where does He preach? Not in any consecrated building, or place set apart for public worship — but in the open air; not in a pulpit constructed for a preacher's use — but in a fisherman's boat. Souls were waiting to be fed. Personal inconvenience was allowed no place in His consideration. God's work must not stand still.
The servants of Christ should learn a lesson from their Master's conduct on this occasion. We are not to wait until every little difficulty or obstacle is removed — before we put our hand to the plough, or go forth to sow the seed of the word. We may often be lacking convenient buildings for assembling a company of hearers. We may often be lacking convenient rooms for gathering children to Sunday school. What, then, are we to do? Shall we sit still and do nothing?
God forbid! If we cannot do all that we want — then let us do what we can. Let us work with such tools as we have. While we are lingering and delaying — souls are perishing. It is the slothful heart that is always looking at the hedge of thorns and the lion in the way. (Proverbs 15:19; 22:13.)
Where we are and as we are, in season of out of season, by one means or by another, by tongue or by pen, by speaking or by writing — let us strive to be ever working for God. But let us never stand still.
We should observe, secondly, in this passage — what encouragement our Lord gives to unquestioning obedience. We are told, that after preaching He said to Simon, "launch out into the deep and let down the nets for a catch." He receives an answer which exhibits in a striking manner the mind of a good servant. "Master," says Simon, "we have toiled all the night and have caught nothing — nevertheless, at your word I will let down the net." And what was the reward of this ready compliance with the Lord's commands? At once, we are told, "When they had done so — they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break."
We need not doubt that a practical lesson for all Christians is contained under these simple circumstances. We are meant to learn the blessing of immediate unhesitating obedience to every plain command of Christ. The path of duty may sometimes be hard and disagreeable. The wisdom of the course we propose to follow, may not be apparent to the world. But none of these things must move us. We are not to confer with flesh and blood. We are to go straight forward when Jesus says, "Go!" We are to do a thing boldly, unflinchingly, and decidedly — when Jesus says, "Do it!" We are to walk by faith, and not by sight — and believe that what we don't see now to be right and reasonable — we shall see hereafter.
So acting, we shall never find in the long run that we are losers. So acting, we shall find, sooner or, later, that we reap a great reward.
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, "Do not let God speak with us, lest we die." (Exodus 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 realize 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. "Do not be afraid; from now on you will 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. (2 Corinthians 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, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will 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 honor, and to others less. But all true and faithful preachers of the Gospel, have a right to believe that their labor shall not prove in vain. They may often preach the Word with many tears, and see no result of their labor. But God's word shall not return void. (Isaiah 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, "You shall catch men."
Section 26. Jesus Heals a Leper, Luke 5:12-16
And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be you clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities. And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.
We see in this passage — our Lord Jesus Christ's POWER over incurable diseases. "A man full of leprosy" applies to Him for relief, and is at once healed. This was a mighty miracle. Of all illnesses which can afflict the body of man — leprosy appears to be the most severe. It affects every part of the constitution at once. It brings sores and decay upon the skin, corruption into the blood, and rottenness into the bones. It is a living death, which no medicine can check or stop.
Yet here we read of a leper being made well in a moment. It is but one touch from the hand of the Son of God — and the cure is effected. It is but one single touch of that almighty hand! "And immediately the leprosy departed from him."
We have in this wonderful history — a lively emblem of Christ's power to heal our souls. What are we all, but spiritual lepers in the sight of God? Sin is the deadly leprosy by which we are all affected. It has eaten into our vitals. It has infected all our faculties. Heart, conscience, mind, and will — all are diseased by sin. From the sole of our foot, to the crown of our head — there is no soundness in us — only welts and wounds and putrefying sores! (Isaiah 1:6.)
Such is the state in which we all are born. Such is the state in which we all naturally live. We are in one sense dead — long before we are laid in the grave. Our bodies may be healthy and active — but our souls are by nature dead in trespasses and sins!
Who shall deliver us from this body of death? Let us thank God that Jesus Christ can! He is that divine Physician, who can make old things pass away, and all things become new. In Him is life. He can wash us thoroughly in His own blood — from all the defilement of sin. He can quicken us, and revive us by His own Spirit. He can cleanse our hearts, open the eyes of our understandings, renew our wills, and make us whole!
Let this truth sink down deeply into our hearts. There is only one medicine to heal our sin-sick souls. If we are lost — it is not because we no remedy provided. However corrupt our hearts, and however wicked our past lives — there is hope for us in the Gospel. There is no case of spiritual leprosy too hard for Christ!
We see, secondly, in this passage — our Lord Jesus Christ's WILLINGNESS to help those who are in need. The petition of the afflicted leper was a very touching one. "Lord," he said, "if you will — you can make me clean." The answer he received was singularly merciful and gracious. At once our Lord replies, "I will — be clean!"
Those two little words, "I will," deserve special notice. They are a deep mine — rich in comfort and encouragement to all laboring and heavy laden souls. They show us the mind of Christ towards sinners. They exhibit His infinite willingness to do good to sinful men, and His readiness to show compassion. Let us always remember, that if men are not saved — it is not because Jesus is not willing to save them. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He would have gathered Jerusalem's children, as a hen gathers her chicks — if they would only have been gathered. He would — but they would not.
The blame of the sinner's ruin must be borne by himself. If he is lost forever — it is his own will. It is a solemn saying of our Lord's, "You will not come unto me — that you might have life." (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4; Ezekiel 18:32; Matthew 23:37; John 5:40)
We see, thirdly, in this passage — what respect our Lord Jesus Christ paid to the ceremonial law of Moses. He bids the leper to "go and show himself to the priest" — according to the requirement in Leviticus, that he may be legally pronounced clean. He bids him offer an offering on the occasion of his doing so, "according as Moses commanded." Our Lord knew well that the ceremonies of the Mosaic law were only shadows and types of good things to come, and had in themselves no inherent power. He knew well that the last days of the Levitical institutions were close at hand, and that they were soon to be laid aside forever. But so long as they were not abrogated — He would have them respected. They were ordained by God Himself. They were pictures and lively emblems of the Gospel. They were not therefore to be lightly esteemed.
There is a lesson here for Christians, which we shall do well to remember. Let us take heed that we do not despise the ceremonial law, because its work is done. Let us beware of neglecting those parts of the Bible, which contain it, under the idea that the believer in the Gospel has nothing to do with them.
It is true that the darkness is past, and the true light now shines. (1 John 2:8.) We have nothing to do now with altars, sacrifices, or priests. Those who wish to revive them are like men who light a candle at noon day. But as true as this is, we must never forget that the ceremonial law is still full of instruction. It contains that same Gospel in the bud — which we now see in full flower. Rightly understood, we shall always find it throwing strong light on the Gospel of Christ. The Bible reader who neglects to study it — will always find at least that by the neglect, his soul has suffered damage.
We see, lastly, in this passage — our Lord Jesus Christ's diligence about private prayer. Although "crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses"--He still made time for secret devotion. As holy and undefiled as He was--He would not allow the demands of public ministry to prevent regular private communion with God. We are told that "He withdrew into the wilderness and prayed."
There is an example set before us here, which is much overlooked in these latter days. There are few professing Christians, it may be feared--who strive to imitate Christ in this matter of private devotion. There is abundance of hearing, and reading, and talking, and profession, and visiting, and almsgiving, and subscribing to societies, and teaching at schools. But is there, together with all this--a due proportion of private prayer? Are believing men and women sufficiently careful to be frequently alone with God? These are humbling and heart-searching questions! But we shall find it useful to give an answer to them.
Why is it that there is so much apparent religious working--and yet so little result in real conversions to God? Why is it that there are so many sermons--and yet so few souls saved? Why is it that there so much church machinery--and yet so little effect produced? Why is it that there is so much running here and there--and yet so few brought to Christ?
Why is all this? The reply is short and simple. There is not enough private prayer! The cause of Christ does not need less working--but it does need more praying among the workers.
Let us each examine ourselves--and amend our ways. The most successful workmen in the Lord's vineyard, are those who are like their Master--often and much upon their knees.
Section 27. Jesus Heals a Paralytic, Luke 5:17-26
And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them. And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him. And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, your sins are forgiven you. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason you in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Your sins be forgiven you; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that you may know that the Son of man has power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto you, Arise, and take up your couch, and go into your house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day.
A threefold miracle demands our attention in these verses. At one and the same time, we see our Lord . . .
reading men's thoughts,
and healing a paralytic.
He who could do such things, and do them with such perfect ease and authority — must indeed be very God. Power like this was never possessed by any man.
Let us mark, firstly, in this passage — what pains men will take about an object when they are in earnest. The friends of a paralyzed man desired to bring him to Jesus, that he might be cured. At first they were unable to do it, because of the crowd by which our Lord was surrounded. What, then, did they do? "When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd — right in front of Jesus!"
At once their object was gained. Our Lord's attention was drawn to their sick friend, and he was healed. By pains, and labor, and perseverance — his friends succeeded in obtaining for him the mighty blessing of a complete cure.
The importance of pains and diligence, is a truth which meets our eyes on every side. In every calling, and vocation, and trade — we see that great effort is one prominent secret of success. It is not by luck or accident that men prosper — but by hard working. Bankers and merchants do not make fortunes without effort and trouble and attention. Lawyers and physicians do not make their practices — without diligence and hard study. The principle is one with which the people of this world are perfectly familiar. It is one of their favorite maxims, "There are no gains, without pains!"
Let us thoroughly understand that pains and diligence are just as essential to the well-being and prosperity of our souls — as of our bodies. In all our endeavors to draw near to God, in all our approaches to Christ — there ought to be the same determined earnestness which was shown by this sick man's friends.
We must allow no difficulties to check us, and no obstacle to keep us back from anything which is really for our spiritual good. Especially must we bear this in mind, in the matter of regularly reading the Bible, hearing the Gospel, keeping the Sabbath holy, and private prayer. On all these points, we must beware of laziness and an excuse-making spirit.
Necessity must be the mother of invention. If we cannot find means of keeping up these habits in one way — then we must in another way. But we must settle it in our minds, that the thing shall be done. The health of our soul is at stake.
Let the crowd of difficulties be what it may — we must get through it. If the people of this world take so much pains about a corruptible crown — then we ought to take far more pains about one that is incorruptible.
Why is it that so many people take no pains in religion? How is it that they can never find time for praying, Bible reading and hearing the Gospel? What is the secret of their continual string of excuses for neglecting means of grace? How is it that the very same men who are full of zeal about money, business, pleasure, or politics — will take no trouble about their souls?
The answer to these questions is short and simple. These men are not in earnest about salvation. They have no sense of their spiritual disease. They have no consciousness of requiring a Spiritual Physician. They do not feel that their souls are in danger of eternal damnation. They see no use in taking trouble about religion. In darkness like, this thousands live and die. Happy indeed are those who have found out their peril, and count all things loss — if they may only win Christ, and be found in Him!
Let us mark, secondly — the kindness and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Twice in this passage we see Him speaking most graciously to the poor sufferer who was brought before Him. He first addressed those marvelous and heart-cheering words to him, "Friend, your sins are forgiven!"
Afterwards He adds words, which in point of comfort, must have been second only to the blessing of forgiveness. "Arise," He says, "and take up your mat, and go home."
First He assures him that his soul is healed--then He tells him that his body is cured, and sends him away rejoicing.
Let us never forget this part of our Lord's character. Christ's loving-kindness to His people never changes, and never fails. It is a deep well--of which no one has ever found the bottom! It began from all eternity, before they were born. It chose, called, and quickened them--when they were dead in trespasses and sins. It drew them to God and changed their character, and put a new will in their minds, and a new song in their mouths. It has borne with them in all their waywardness and shortcomings. It will never allow them to be separated from God. It will flow ever forward, like a mighty river, through the endless ages of eternity!
Christ's love and mercy, must be a sinner's plea when he first begins his journey. Christ's love and mercy, will be his only plea when he crosses the dark river and enters his eternal home.
Let us seek to know this love by inward experience, and prize it more. Let it constrain us more continually to live, not unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us and rose again.
Let us mark, lastly — our Lord's perfect knowledge of the thoughts of men. We read that when the Scribes and Pharisees began to reason secretly among themselves, and privately charge our Lord with blasphemy--He knew what they were about and put them to an open shame. It is written, that "Jesus knew what they were thinking."
It should be a daily and habitual reflection with us--that we can keep nothing secret from Christ. To Him apply the words of Paul, "All things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." Hebrews 4:13
To Him belong the solemn expressions of the 139th Psalm--the Psalm which every Christian should often study. There is not a word in our mouths, nor an imagination in our hearts--but Jesus knows it altogether!
How many searchings of heart this mighty truth ought to awaken within us! Christ ever sees us! Christ always knows us! Christ continually reads and observes our acts, words and thoughts!
The recollection of this--should alarm the wicked and drive them from their sins! Their wickedness is not hidden, and will one day be fearfully exposed--unless they repent.
It should frighten hypocrites out of their hypocrisy. They may deceive man--but they are not deceiving Christ!
It should quicken and comfort all sincere believers. They should remember that a loving Master is ever watching them--and should do all as in His sight.
Above all, they should feel that, however mocked and slandered by the world--they are fairly and justly measured by their Savior's eye. They can say, "You, Lord, who know all things--You know that I love You." John 21:17
Section 28. The Calling of Matthew, Luke 5:27-32
And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
The verses we have now read, ought to be deeply interesting to every one who knows the value of his immortal soul, and desires salvation. They describe the conversion and experience of one of Christ's earliest disciples. We also, are all by nature born in sin, and need conversion. Let us see what we know of the mighty change. Let us compare our own experience with that of the man whose case is here described — and by comparison learn wisdom.
We are taught, in this passage — the power of Christ's calling grace. We read that our Lord called a tax-collector named Levi to become one of His disciples. This man belonged to a class who were a very proverb for wickedness among the Jews. Yet even to him our Lord says, "Follow Me!"
We read furthermore, that such mighty influence on Levi's heart accompanied our Lord's words, that although "sitting at his tax booth," when called — he at once got up, left everything, followed Jesus, and became His disciple.
We must never despair of any one's salvation, so long as he lives — after reading a case like this. We must never say of anyone that he is too wicked, or too hardened, or too worldly — to be saved. No sins are too many, or too bad — to be forgiven. No heart is too hard or too worldly — to be changed. He who called Levi still lives, and is the same that He was 1800 years ago. With Christ, nothing is impossible!
How is it with ourselves? This, after all, is the grand question. Are we waiting, and delaying, and hanging back — under the idea that the cross is too heavy, and that we can never serve Christ? Let us cast such thoughts away at once and forever. Let us believe that Christ can enable us by His Spirit to give up all, and come out from the world. Let us remember that He who called Levi, never changes. Let us take up the cross boldly, and go forward.
We are taught, secondly, in this passage — that conversion is a cause of joy to a true believer. We read, that when Levi was converted, he made a "great feast in his own house." A feast is made for laughter and merriment. (Ecclesiastes 10:19.) Levi regarded the change in himself — as an occasion of rejoicing, and wished others to rejoice with him.
We can easily imagine that Levi's conversion was a cause of grief to his worldly friends. They saw him giving up a profitable calling — to follow a new teacher from Nazareth! They doubtless regarded his conduct as a grievous piece of folly — and an occasion for sorrow, rather than joy. They only looked at his temporal losses, by becoming a Christian. Of his spiritual gains, they knew nothing.
In the same way, there are many like them. There are always thousands of people who, if they hear of a relation being converted — consider it rather a misfortune. Instead of rejoicing — they only shake their heads and mourn.
Let us, however, settle it in our minds that Levi did right to rejoice — and if we are converted, let us rejoice likewise. Nothing can happen to a man, which ought to be such an occasion of joy, as his conversion. It is a far more important event than being married, or being made a nobleman, or receiving a great fortune.
It is the birth of an immortal soul!
It is the rescue of a sinner from Hell!
It is a passage from life to death!
It is being made a king and priest for evermore!
It is being provided for, both in time and eternity!
It is adoption into the noblest and richest of all families — the family of God!
Let us not heed the opinion of the world in this matter. They speak evil of things which they know nothing of. Let us, with Levi, consider every fresh conversion as a cause for great rejoicing. Never ought there to be such joy, gladness, and congratulation — as when our sons, or daughters, or brethren, or sisters, or friends, are born again and brought to Christ.
The words of the prodigal's father should be remembered, "It was fit that we should make merry and be glad — for this your brother was dead, and now is alive again! He was lost — and now is found." (Luke 15:32.)
We are taught, thirdly, in this passage — that converted souls desire to promote the conversion of others. We are told that when Levi was converted, and had made a feast on the occasion — he invited a great company of tax-collectors and others to share it. Most probably these men were his old friends and companions. He knew well what their souls needed, for he had been one of them. He desired to make them acquainted with that Savior who had been merciful to himself. Having found mercy — he wanted them also to find it. Having been graciously delivered from the bondage of sin — he wished others also to be set free.
This feeling of Levi will always be the feeling of a true Christian. It may be safely asserted — that there is no grace in the man who cares nothing about the salvation of his fellow men. The heart which is really taught by the Holy Spirit — will always be full of love, charity, and compassion towards others. The soul which has been truly saved by God — will earnestly desire that others may experience the same salvation. A converted man will not wish to go to Heaven alone.
How is it with ourselves in this matter? Do we know anything of Levi's spirit after his conversion? Do we strive in every way to make our friends and relatives acquainted with Christ? Do we say to others, as Moses to Hobab, "Come with us — and we will do you good!" (Numbers 10:29.) Do we say as the Samaritan woman, "Come, see a man who told me everything that I ever did?" Do we cry to our brethren as Andrew did to Simeon, "We have found the Christ!"
These are very serious questions. They supply a most searching test of the real condition of our souls. Let us not shrink from applying it. There is not enough of a missionary spirit among Christians. It should not satisfy us, to be safe ourselves. We ought also to try to do good to others. All cannot go to the heathen — but every believer should strive to be a missionary to his fellow men. Having received mercy — we should be eager to share the gospel with others.
We are taught, lastly, in this passage — one of the chief objects of Christ's coming into the world. We have it in the well-known verse, "I did not come to call the righteous — but sinners to repentance."
This is that great lesson of the Gospel which, in one form or another, we find continually taught in the New Testament. It is one which we can never have too strongly impressed upon our minds. Such is our natural ignorance and self-righteousness in religion, that we are constantly losing sight of it. We need to be frequently reminded — that Jesus did not come merely as a teacher, but as the Savior of those who are utterly lost; and that they alone can receive salvation from Him — who will confess that they are ruined, bankrupt, hopeless, miserable sinners!
Let us use this mighty truth, if we never used it before.
Are we sensible of our own wickedness and sinfulness? Do we feel that we are unworthy of anything but Divine wrath and condemnation? Then let us understand that we are the very people for whose sake Jesus came into the world! If we feel ourselves to be righteous — then Christ has nothing to say to us. But if we feel ourselves to be lost sinners — then Christ calls us to repentance. Let not the call be made in vain.
Let us go on using this mighty truth, if we have used it in time past. Do we find our own hearts weak and deceitful? Do we often feel that "when we would do good — evil is present with us?" (Romans 7:21.) It may be all true — but it must not prevent our resting on Christ. He "came in to the world to save sinners!" And if we feel ourselves to be such — then we have warrant for applying to, and trusting in Him to our life's end.
Only let us never forget one thing — that Christ came to call us to repentance, and not to sanction our continuing in sin.
Section 29. Fasting and Wineskins, Luke 5:33-39
And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but your eat and drink? And he said unto them, Can you make the children of the bride chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. And he spoke also a parable unto them; No man puts a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new makes a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agrees not with the old. And no man puts new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine immediately desires new: for he says, The old is better.
We should observe in these verses — that men may disagree on the lesser points of religion, while they agree on its weightier matters. We have this brought out in the alleged difference between the disciples of John the Baptist, and the disciples of Christ. The question was put to our Lord, "John's disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees — but why do your disciples go on eating and drinking?"
We cannot suppose that there was any essential difference between the doctrines held by these two parties of disciples. The teaching of John the Baptist was doubtless clear and explicit upon all the main points necessary to salvation. The man who could say of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" was not likely to teach his followers anything contrary to the Gospel. His teaching of course, lacked the fullness and perfection of his divine Master's teaching — but it is absurd to suppose that it contradicted it.
Nevertheless there were points of practice on which his disciples differed from those of Christ. Agreeing, as they doubtless did, about the necessity of repentance, and faith, and holiness — they disagreed about such matters as fasting, eating, drinking, and manner of public devotion. One in heart, and hope, and aim, as they were about the weightier matters of inward religion — they were not entirely of one mind about secondary outward matters.
We must make up our minds to see differences of this kind among Christians, as long as the world stands. We may much regret them — because of the handle they give to an ignorant and prejudiced world. But they will exist. They are one of the many evidences of our fallen condition. About church government, about the manner of conducting public worship, about fasts and feasts, and ceremonials — Christians have never been entirely of one mind, even from the days of the apostles. On all these, points the holiest and ablest servants of God have arrived at different conclusions. Argument, reasoning, persuasion, persecution — have all alike proved unable to produce unity.
Let us, however, bless God that there are many points on which all true servants of God are thoroughly agreed. About sin and salvation, about repentance, and faith, and holiness — there is a mighty unity among all believers of every name, and nation, and people, and tongue.
Let us make much of these points in our own personal religion. These, after all, are the principal things which we shall think of in the hour of death, and the day of judgment. On other matters — we must agree to differ. It will signify little at the last day what we thought about fasting, and eating, and drinking, and ceremonies. Did we repent, and bring forth fruits fit for repentance? Did we behold the Lamb of God by faith, and sincerely receive Him as our Savior?
All, of every church, who are found right on these points — will be saved.
All, of every church, who are found wrong on these points — will be lost forevermore.
We should observe, secondly, in these verses — the name by which our Lord Jesus Christ speaks of Himself. Twice He calls Himself "the Bridegroom."
The name "bridegroom," like every name applied to our Lord in the Bible, is full of instruction.
It is a name particularly comforting and encouraging to all true Christians. It teaches the deep and tender love with which Jesus regards all sinners who believe in Him. Weak, and unworthy, and short-coming as they are in themselves — He feels towards them a tender affection, even as a husband does towards his wife.
The name "bridegroom," teaches the close and intimate union which exists between Jesus and believers. It is something far nearer than the union of king and subject, master and servant, teacher and scholar, shepherd and sheep. It is the closest of all unions — the union of husband and wife, the union of which it is written, "what God has joined together — let no man put asunder."
Above all, the name teaches that entire participation of all that Jesus is and has — which is the privilege of every believer. Just as the husband gives to his wife his name, makes her partaker of his property, home, and dignity, and undertakes all her debts and liabilities — so does Christ deal with all true Christians. He takes on Himself all their sins. He declares that they are a part of Himself, and that he who hurts them — hurts Him. He gives them, even in this world, such good things as surpass man's understanding. And He promises that in the next world, they shall sit with Him on His throne, and never leave His presence forever.
If we know anything of true and saving religion — then let us often rest our souls on this name and office of Christ. Let us remember daily, that the weakest of Christ's people are cared for with a tender care that surpasses knowledge — and that whoever hurts them, is hurting the apple of Christ's eye.
In this world we may be poor and contemptible, and laughed at because of our religion. But if we have saving faith — then we are precious in the sight of Christ. The Bridegroom of our soul will one day plead our cause before the whole world!
We should observe, lastly, in these verses — how gently and tenderly Christ would have His people deal with young and inexperienced Christians. He teaches us this lesson by two parables, drawn from the affairs of daily life. He shows the folly of sewing "new cloth on an old garment," or of putting "new wine into old wineskins."
In the same way, He would have us know that there is a lack of harmony between a new dispensation and an old one. It is vain to expect those who have been trained and taught under one system — to become immediately used to another system. On the contrary, they must be led on by degrees, and taught as they are able to bear.
The lesson is one which all true Christians would do well to lay to heart — and none perhaps so much as Christian ministers and Christian parents. Forgetfulness of it often does much harm to the cause of truth. The hard judgments and unreasonable expectations of old disciples — have often driven back and discouraged young beginners in the school of Christ.
Let us settle it in our minds, that grace must have a beginning in every believer's heart, and that we have no right to say a man has no grace — because it does not come to full ripeness at once. We do not expect a child to do the work of a full-grown man — though he may one day, if he lives long enough.
In the same way, we must not expect a new disciple of Christ — to show the faith, and love, and knowledge of an old soldier of the cross. He may by and bye become a mighty champion of the truth. But at first, we must give him time.
There is great need of wisdom in dealing with young people about religion — and, generally speaking, with all young disciples. Kindness, and patience, and gentleness — are of the first importance. We must not try to pour in the new wine too quickly — or it will ruin the wineskins. We must take them by the hand and lead them on gently. We must beware of frightening, or hurrying them, or pressing them on too fast. If they have only got hold of the main principles of the Gospel — then let us not set them down as godless, because of a few lesser matters. We must bear with much weakness and infirmity — and not expect to find old heads on young shoulders, or ripe Christian experience in those who are only babes.
There was deep wisdom in Jacob's saying, "If they are driven hard just one day — all the flock will die." (Genesis 33:13.)