Second part of Sermon LII. for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity.
(for the first part, on the Epistle..)
That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness
and honesty.— I TIM.
...And now to proceed to the Gospel for this Sunday. It appears
to have some connexion with the Collect; for we pray in the Collect that
“the course of the world may be peaceably ordered by God’s governance,”
and that “His Church may joyfully serve” Him “in godly quietness.”
And by the miraculous draught of fishes in the Gospel, Christ sets before
us in a lively manner how all the governing of the world is in God’s hand,
to give or to withhold, as He thinks best; and then, when He has shown
this, our Lord calls on the Apostles to give up all and to cleave to Him.
And what is this but to exhort His Church joyfully to serve Him in all
godly quietness, under the full assurance that the course of this world
is in His hand, and that He will Himself so order it as may most conduce
to the good of those who seek first His kingdom and righteousness?
And indeed the Gospel itself presents us with a beautiful emblem or
picture of this state for which we pray in the Collect; it is like a peaceful
representation of serving God in joyful quietness. There is our Blessed
Lord Himself in the boat, teaching the people who are gathered together
in great multitudes on the shore; the boat is on the waters, which are
now very calm and still; there is not a breeze to disturb the sound of
His gracious words as they fall on the attentive and listening ears.
The boat in which our Lord sits is, like His Church, in a state of peace
and quietness: in like manner as the same boat, in the midst of the storm,
and almost overwhelmed with the waves and the winds, represents His Church
amidst the troubles of the world, when He Himself seems as it were asleep
within her, or walking without in the midst of the storm.
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. These fishermen had indeed already been with Him
as His disciples, but they had not yet learned that they were to give up
all things to follow Him; they were still pursuing these their means of
livelihood. 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. We well know
what the nature of His teaching was, leading them by gracious words to
trust in Him Who was the mighty power of God to save, and to think of nothing
but of God and Heaven. But even His own disciples, at this time,
found it a hard matter thus to serve God joyfully in quietness, for they
were full of care, we may well suppose, about their own livelihood.; they
were mending their worn nets in sorrow of heart, with divided attention
listening to His words, for they had toiled all night in vain. But
their Divine Master saw and knew their trials, and was intending thereby
to draw them more near unto Himself. 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 Thy word I will
let down the net. As if he had said, it is hopeless, humanly
speaking, and all in vain; but Thee I will obey. 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. Then, at so wonderful
a sight, burst suddenly on St. Peter the knowledge that it was all miraculous.
No thought of his own profit at such a Supply, no sense of relief after
having so long toiled in vain occurred to him, but all was lost in the
feeling of God’s presence and of his own sinfulness. So should it
be with us when God opens His hand; it should humble us with the thoughts
of what God is, and what we ourselves are. It should lead us to trust
in Him to give us all things needful for the body, while we yield up ourselves
more entirely to His service; but, alas! it has usually with us the very
opposite effect—we accept His gifts, and in His gifts forget the more the
Giver of all good.
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 now our Blessed Lord had produced by this miracle
the very effect which He had desired; He had thus led the disciples to
trust Him entirely for their bodily support, and so to give themselves
up to His service; Simon Peter had learned to abhor himself in repentance
in the presence of the most Holy God. This was the beginning of Christ’s
Kingdom; in this his sense of weakness was the strength of God to be perfected.
And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch
men. Thou shalt be as chief among those fishermen which, from
this time until the end of the world, shall let down, and draw to the shore,
that great net, which is .the Kingdom of Heaven, containing fish both good
and bad, which the angels shall separate and part asunder.
And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all,
and followed Him.
Now what is the great lesson which this Gospel is to teach us, especially
as taken with the Collect, which is the key to that lesson? We are
not all called upon to be Apostles; we are not required to give up our
means of worldly maintenance, as these disciples were, nor to expect that
we are to be miraculously sustained in attendance upon Christ. And
yet the Gospel for the day speaks to us all; and if we come to the very
words which the termination leaves upon our ears, we shall find that it
is a matter of universal obligation: “They forsook all, and followed Him;”
for our Lord, we know, says to all alike, “Whosoever he be of you that
forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple.”
What more beautiful and interesting lesson could there be to allure
them on to serve God joyfully in all godly quietness? first of all, by
want and by labouring all night in disappointment and despair; and now,
by great abundance, beyond all that they could ask or think, He induced
them to trust in Him in Whom there is all fulness for every want, to look
to Him, to cleave to Him in such a sense of His Divine Presence as to forget
all things else. For what were all the fish they had taken, what
were their nets and their boats to them when they had now found the Christ;
nay, more, when in Christ they had found God? St. Peter does not
give thanks for his wants being thus supplied, for he has forgotten them
altogether; he is conscious of nothing but of that gracious Presence which,
by its very mercy and goodness, had brought his sins to remembrance.
It is on account of that very goodness itself that he begs Christ to depart,
as if saying, “Such knowledge” of Thee and of Thy mercy “is too wonderful
and excellent for me; I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go
then from Thy Spirit: or whither shall I go then from Thy Presence?”
Nor again does it occur to these disciples to think, we have now enough
for to-day, and to-morrow, and the next day, and will therefore be able
without distraction to wait on Thee for the present, and hear Thy words;
but it is the entire surrender of themselves, without any thought or care,
to the one thing which alone is needful.
This is the important warning of this Sunday: the necessity of withdrawing
all our affections, interest, and anxieties from the things of time, and
fixing them without reserve upon Christ in God, that we may serve Him with
joy. Let us apply this to the outward course of this world, in public
matters. Many are anxious that these should “be so peaceably ordered,”
that the Church may serve God in quietness; but then they seem to think
that this is to be effected by their own governance, and not by the governance
of God; for otherwise how could they be so full of manifold anxieties,
so absorbed in the success of their own wishes and management? and
from hence what a world of bitter thoughts and jealousies, low and mean
joys, and still meaner fears? From the state of their hearts on this
subject, one might think that God had given up unto them the government
of His own world. St. Paul commands that we pray “for kings, and
all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life,
in all godliness and honesty.” Observe what are the means for this
end. It is prayer only; it is to God only that we are to look in
this, as in all other matters. For it is by looking to God in such
matters, that not only will the objects we desire be brought about, but
also our own souls healed with respect to them. It is the only cure
for our own anxious desires and private ends.
Such is the lesson which the Collect appears so seasonably to bring
before us at this time with regard to the course of public affairs.
But it applies no less forcibly to our own personal interests; for as we
pray to God that He will so govern this world that His Church may joyfully
serve Him in quietness, so also must we leave it entirely to Him alone,
that the course of outward events may be so ordered- that the soul may
serve Him without distraction. To serve Him with joy is quite impossible,
unless it be with an undivided heart; to serve Him in godly quietness can
never be, if we are disquieted and “troubled about many things;” and disquieted
we certainly must be, so far as we are not deeply in our hearts convinced
that the course of this world, with regard to ourselves, must be ordered
by His governance, and not by our own. O blessed and peaceful knowledge,
which His Spirit alone can give! hidden anchor of the soul which, amidst
the storms of this world, binds it to the eternal shore !
And now to return once more to the Epistle. What can be more seasonable
and valuable than that concluding exhortation of St. Peter, Who can harm
you if ye be followers of that which is good? and if, for righteousness’
sake, ye suffer persecution, happy are ye. And be not afraid of their
terror, neither be troubled. Sanctify God in your hearts, and all
will be well. Fear Him, and ye need fear nothing else. “Seek
ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and all will work together
for your good, your great and final happiness.
We must, then, take care not to make that false estimate of suffering
which the world is wont to do. For we may observe, with regard to
trials and persecutions, that it is by means of them that God works the
greatest good in the world. If Jacob had not been driven from home
by his brother’s enmity, he would not as an exile have wrestled with God
and prevailed, and seen visions of angels. Take away the afflictions
of Joseph, and lost would be all that deliverance which God wrought by
his means. Had not Pharaoh dealt so cruelly with the people of God,
they would have been content to stay in Egypt; we should have known nothing
of Moses, of Mount Sinai, of the bread from Heaven. Had not David
been persecuted by Saul, the sweet Psalmist of Israel would not have shown
that blessed temper of unwearied forgiveness, nor known of those consolations,
and of that Tower of strength, on which he ever delights to dwell.
It was the bonds and imprisonment of St. Paul, and the hate of the Jews
against him, which sent him to Rome to make known Christ crucified in the
capital of the world, and the palace of the Roman emperor. In a word,
it was the persecution and enmity of the Jews which occasioned the death
of Christ, and the redemption of the world. And thus it is ever the
case that, by the malice and cruelty of the wicked, God in wonderful ways
works the greatest good; and therefore well may St. Peter say, “Who is
he that will harm you?” “Be not afraid of their terror.” Sanctify
the Lord God in your hearts, and all will be well, infinitely well.
If God be for us, who can be against us? “When He giveth quietness,
who then can make trouble?"
Why then, it may be asked, do we pray that the course of this world
may be so peaceably ordered, that His Church may joyfully serve God in
quietness; if this joyfulness in God may be in the midst of persecution,
and He may be served in quietness amidst the storms of the world?
The fact is, that this distraction of heart, which hinders us from the
true service of God, does not so much arise from troubles and enemies that
are without, as from the fear of them; and it is by prayer to God that
we get rid of such fears.
We pray for peace, and we seek for peace; we would “live peaceably with
all men,” and would at all times be “peacemakers,” as followers of Him
Who was the Prince of Peace; and it is thus that He sheds in our hearts
His own peace.
The saints of God in the Book of the Revelation, who in the last days
are to overcome all the armies of evil men and evil spirits with which
they will have to contend, are described as being without arms, without
sword, or spear, or shield, following the Captain of their Salvation, “in
linen white and clean,” which is said to be “the righteousness of saints;"
and that righteousness is described to consist in meek forbearance and
patience. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the
Blood of the Lamb;" it is Him they follow, the Lamb of God, the patient
Victim of all endurance; it is by His arms that they conquer; all their
strength consists in this, that as He was, so are they in this world.