Luke 5:1-11; John 21:1-14.
J. G. Bellett.
Christian Friend vol. 17, 1890, p. 225.
(Although a paper with a similar title and on the same scriptures is in print, the notes of this address have not been before published. — Ed.)
The soul has its history as well as the body. The soul takes its journeys at times as well as the body. This we know and have experienced. Peter's spirit took a wondrous journey in Luke 5. He is there, at first, in the place of nature — an easy, kind-hearted man as ever lived, earnest to love and to serve; and being such an one, he readily lent his boat to the wondrous Stranger who was there addressing the multitude on the shore of the sea of Gennesaret. And when the wants of this Stranger were over, at His bidding Peter put his boat further into the lake, and let down his net for a draught.
But this was nature still. He had not left the place of nature yet — his own place, the place where his natural friendliness and easiness of temper had put him all his life hitherto. "Master," said he to Jesus, "we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net."
But now the journey of his soul begins — a wondrous, distant journey, but performed as in a whirlwind. The chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof, in their way, were standing and waiting for him. The draught of fishes which came at the word of the Stranger surprised the soul of Peter, and at once bore him into the presence of God. The Stranger was transfigured before his soul as in the twinkling of an eye. He was the Lord of the fulness of the sea, who could command the draught, and Peter stood in the presence of God. The living God, the God of glory, was in the place, and Peter had not known it till now, and the sight overwhelms him. He learns himself there, and he is confounded. "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." It is no more "Master," but "Lord." It is no more the fisherman Peter, who had been toiling all the night at his nets, but the sinner Peter. It is a new world to him, the brightness of which is too powerful. He is in God's presence, and it is too much for him. He learns himself where only we can duly learn ourselves, in the presence of the glory of God. We have all sinned, and come short of that glory, and that is discovered by our souls when that glory is reached for the first time.
This was a journey indeed! Peter was taken from the native land of his easy, kindly, but revolted nature (revolted, because it could not stand before God), to the dwelling-place of the glory of God; and he apprehends that place in the brightness of it, and is amazed.
But he must go still further into this new world. He must still travel; and the word, the further word of the Lord, the word of Him whose divine honour and rights had here been discovered to him, must lead him on. "Fear not," says Jesus to him; and when he obeys, and follows where those words lead him, his journey is ended. He may dwell for ever in the place he has now reached. He has left the native land of nature for the presence of God, and found it the home of a poor, convicted, conscience-stricken sinner.
Many a journey, I am sure, the soul of Peter took in after days. He had to pass through the rebukes of the Lord; and they ever give the soul a chapter in its history, or take it some stage of that living way which the word of God has cast up before us, and along which the Spirit of God bears us. But I am thinking only of one other journey which this loved and earnest man had to perform under the hand of the Lord. I mean that which he takes in John 21:1-14.
Here we find him again at his fishing. Sweet, natural scene! It is given to us in all the artlessness of truth. He and some companions are again on the sea of Galilee, and again a Stranger addresses him. In like simplicity and friendship which gave him character at the first, he does as this Stranger bids him; and he is, in like grace, rewarded by another heavy draught of fishes. This was a token. It was symptomatic of who this Stranger was. The finger may not be sensitive enough to feel the pulse, or the eye keen enough to discover the mark. Peter fails in this faculty, and John sees for him. "It is the Lord," says he to him. The eye had seen for the body, and then the foot begins its service. Peter's second journey begins, as we tracked him first in Luke 5, with the speed of a single, devoted, and loving Heart. He is in the water at once to reach the Lord. He now knew Him as he had not when he began his first journey. He had already said to him, "Fear not." He now knew Him, and is not amazed. His presence is not that of a glory that was overwhelming, but of a glory that had already given his conscience a home; and though that conscience had every reason at that moment to be a coward, it is bold as a lion. The fisherman Peter, when introduced at first to the presence of God, had become, in his experience, the sinner Peter; but now the fisherman Peter becomes, in his experience, the loved, saved, accepted Peter. He will tread softly, surely he will, for he worships in the presence of God; but he treads confidently, for he is accepted in that presence, and courts it with all speed and all certainty. Right it was at first that in that presence he should be convicted and discover his sin; right it is now that in that presence he should be a worshipper, a consciously accepted worshipper, for that glory had already spoken comfortably to him.
What two draughts of fishes these were! What two journeys for the soul to take! How Peter's spirit was called to penetrate the new world where the glory and the grace of Christ so shine; and in the display of the grace that is there, I discover the same character after as before the resurrection. A blessed discovery for the soul. In other days, as in Mark 4, the Lord has to rebuke the disciples for their little faith, fearing as they had done when the storm rose on the lake. But ere He rebuked their unbelief He allayed their tremblings. He said, "Peace, be still" to the waves ere He said to the disciples, "How is it that ye have no faith?" And so now with Peter. He sits with Peter, He dines with Peter. The full, free fellowship of his heart with his loved One is made sure to Peter's spirit ere his Lord addresses Himself to his conscience, and brings his ways to remembrance. The Jesus who had once calmed the sea ere He rebuked the disciples, now gives Peter an unbroken net full of fishes, and dines with him, ere He says to him, "Lovest thou me?" Oh, the secrets of that land which Peter had entered! J. G. B.