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early Christian art and literature, shows how deeply this lesson was engraved on the heart of the church* An important lesson was taught Peter, as he was called the first time to the apostolic office, and another lesson equally important was taught him, as he was to be reinvested with it, after his fall.
The lesson taught in the first miraculous draught of fishes was the same that was taught in the parable of the net, in Matt. xiii. 47, 48. “The kingdom of God is like a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind, which when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.” In the miracle it is added that the net brake because of the number of fishes, and the exact number is not given. The lesson thus embodied is a most obvious one, and one that the whole history of the church confirms. It predicts that in the casting of this gospel net, many shall be enclosed in it who are not good; and that there shall be rents and schisms in its external bonds, of a most serious character. And has it not been so ? Has not the visible church included both bad and good, both wise and foolish? And has
* The Greek word ixere, fish, contains the first letters of the phrase Ιησούς Χριστος θεού Υιος Σωτήρ, Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Saviour, and is found engraven on the tombs of the early Christians in the catacombs of Rome.
not its outward form been torn again and again by schism, heresy, and error ? And are not those who have once been brought in often breaking through its trammels and plunging again into the miry sea? It is obvious then that this first miraculous draught of fishes presented precisely the lesson that the disciples needed in beginning their work, and that the truths thus symbolized both by parable and by miracle have been verified by the history of the church.
It is most natural then for us to infer that similar lessons were designed to be taught by the second miracle of this kind. In both cases, they had toiled all night and caught nothing ; in both cases, at the command of Christ, and by his miraculous power, their labours were crowned with success. How painfully this common fact foreshadows the labours of ministers often needs no proof. It is sadly true of them but too frequently, that they toil all night and take nothing. They go forth, wakeful and weeping, and strive to win souls to Christ, and yet are compelled to return with the mournful plaint, “Who hath believed our report ?” This want of success is sometimes referred to the inefficiency of the pulpit, and we are told that if preachers would copy the manner of the politician and the lawyer, they would be more successful. This is like the assurance that with a different twine to the net, or a
different throw in handling it, the disciples would have enclosed the fish. But the fact remains, that this very want of success was long ago predicted in the unsuccessful toil of the disciples on the sea of Galilee during that weary night, when they toiled, and yet took nothing. This fact that was common to both miracles, and the further fact that only at the command of Jesus their labours were crowned with success, indicate that the two had the same significance. They were both acted parables, designed to embody truths needful for their instruction as “ fishers of men."
But there are differences between the two, that are too striking to be undesigned. The first mir. acle was at the opening of Christ's ministry, the second at its close. This indicates to us the meaning of each scene. The one presents the work of the church, during its continuance in the world's history; the other, its welcome at the close of that history, when the work of redemption is finished. The one exhibits the history of the church visible, in its progress through time; the other, the history of the church invisible, as it shall be gathered at last on the shores of eternity. This is no novelty of interpretation, but as old as Augustine, who unfolds repeatedly, with his wonted richness of illustration, this view of the two miracles.
We have then an explanation of the differences
in the two cases. In the first miracle Christ was in the ship; in the second, on the shore. In the first, the fish were caught and placed in the ship; in the second, on the shore. In the first, the nets brake, and many escaped to the sea again; in the second, although there were so many, it is distinctly recorded that the nets did not break. In the first, the ship was ready to sink because of the great weight; in the second, there was no danger or alarm of any kind, all was secure.
These differences describe the precise difference between the church militant, and the church triumphant. Now, the church is like a fisher's bark, with its net in the sea. All around her is wild, restless, and troubled. The world is like the evertossing sea, now calm and quiet, then torn with tempests, and casting up mire and filth. This frail bark of the church is not idle, but busily at work with its nets. And men are gathered within their folds, though of a mixed character, bad as well as good, and the nets themselves are often torn with schism and separation, and of those that are brought into the church, many are but a dead weight, and only tend to swamp and sink her. So it has ever been, so it is now. Those who have seen the church labouring in the wild tossings of human history, have often predicted her destruction. These predictions would have been verified but for one blessed fact, Christ was in the vessel, and she could not be lost. Tossed though she may be, with torn net, and a sinking hull, to human eyes, she cannot perish, for she carries Jesus, and must therefore come safely at last to the shore.
Her condition, when the voyage of time is ended, is vividly presented in the second miracle. There Christ stands to give her a welcome on the quiet shore, giving assurance that when her long night of toil has ended, when her earthly history has closed, she shall be welcomed to that bright and heavenly strand; when with the light of the eternal morning on the hills, she will be brought safely to the shore, not a twine of her net snapped, not a spar shattered, not a purpose or promise of God concerning her unfulfilled or broken. The church visible has torn nets, broken spars, and sinking bulls, for she includes the bad as well as the good; the church invisible has none of these, for she includes only “the sacramental host of God's elect," the redeemed and ransomed, of whom none shall ever be lost.
By the same principle do we interpret the other variations in the miracles. In the first, the net was simply cast in the deep; in the second, on the right side of the ship. The right side is the side of honour and value, and it is implied that all who are taken there are good. The same fact is intimated in the numbers taken. In the first, it was