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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Luke 5

 

 

Verse 1

Luke 5:1.He stood near the lake. Matthew and Mark, according to the usual custom of their language, call it the sea of Galilee. The proper name of this lake among the ancient Hebrews was כנרת, (Chinnereth;) (338) but, when the language became corrupted, the word was changed to Gennesaret. Profane authors call it Gennesar; and that part, which lay towards Galilee, was called by them the sea of Galilee. The bank, which adjoined to Tiberias, received its name from that city. Its breadth and situation will be more appropriately discussed in another place. Let us now come to the fact here related.

Luke says, that Christ entered into a ship which belonged to Peter, and withdrew to a moderate distance from the land, that he might more conveniently address from it the multitudes, who flocked from various places to hear him; and that, after discharging the office of teaching, he exhibited a proof of his divine power by a miracle. It was no unusual thing, indeed, that fishers cast their nets, on many occasions, with little advantage: and that all their fruitless toil was afterwards recompensed by one successful throw. But it was proved to be a miracle by this circumstance, that they had taken nothing during the whole night, (which, however, is more suitable for catching fish,) and that suddenly a great multitude of fishes was collected into their nets, sufficient to fill the ships. Peter and his companions, therefore, readily conclude that a take, so far beyond the ordinary quantity, was not accidental, but was bestowed on them by a divine interposition.


Verse 5

Luke 5:5.Master, toiling all the night, we have taken nothing. The reason why Peter calls him Master unquestionably is, that he knows Christ to be accustomed to discharge the office of a Teacher, and is moved with reverence toward him. But he has not yet made such progress as to deserve to be ranked among his disciples: for our sentiments concerning Christ do not render him sufficient honor, unless we embrace his doctrine by the obedience of faith, and know what he requires from us. He has but a slender perception — if he has any at all — of the value of the Gospel; but the deference which he pays to Christ is manifested by this, that, when worn out by fruitless toil, he commences anew what he had already attempted in vain. Yet it cannot be denied, that he highly esteemed Christ, and had the highest respect for his authority. But a particular instance of faith, rendered to a single command of Christ, would not have made Peter a Christian, or given him a place among the sons of God, if he had not been led on, from this first act of submission, to a full obedience. But, as Peter yielded so readily to the command of Christ, whom he did not yet know to be a Prophet or the Son of God, no apology can be offered for our disgraceful conduct, if, while we call him our Lord, and King, and Judege, (Isaiah 33:22 ,) we do not move a finger to perform our duty, to which we have ten times received his commands.


Verse 6

Luke 5:6.They inclosed a great multitude of fishes. The design of the miracle undoubtedly was, to make known Christ’s divinity, and thus to induce Peter and others to become his disciples. But we may draw from this instance a general instruction, that we have no reason to be afraid lest our labor should not be attended by the blessing of God and desirable success, when it is undertaken by the authority and guidance of Christ. Such was the multitude of fishes, that the ships were sinking, and the minds of the spectators were thus excited to admiration: for it must have been in consequence of the divine glory of Christ manifested by this miracle, that his authority was fully acknowledged.


Verse 8

Luke 5:8.Depart from me, O Lord. Although men are earnest in seeking the presence of God, yet, as soon as God appears, they must be struck with terror, and almost rendered lifeless by dread and alarm, until he administers consolation. They have the best reason for calling earnestly on God, because they cannot avoid feeling that they are miserable, while he is absent from them: and, on the other hand, his presence is appalling, because they begin to feel that they are nothing, and that they are overpowered by an immense mass of evils. In this manner, Peter views Christ with reverence in the miracle, and yet is so overawed by his majesty, that he does all he can to avoid his presence. Nor was this the case with Peter alone: for we learn, from the context, that astonishment had overpowered all who were with him. Hence we see, that it is natural to all men to tremble at the presence of God. And this is of advantage to us, in order to humble any foolish confidence or pride that may be in us, provided it is immediately followed by soothing consolation. And so Christ relieves the mind of Peter by a mild and friendly reply, saying to him, Fear not. Thus Christ sinks his own people in the grave, that he may afterwards raise them to life. (339)


Verse 10

Luke 5:10.For afterwards thou shalt catch men. The words of Matthew are, I will make you fishers of men; and those of Mark are, I will cause that you may become fishers of men. They teach us, that Peter, and the other three, were not only gathered by Christ to be his disciples, but were made apostles, or, at least, chosen with a view to the apostleship. It is, therefore, not merely a general call to faith, but a special call to a particular office, that is here described. The duties of instruction, I do admit, are not yet enjoined upon them; but still it is to prepare them for being instructors, (340) that Christ receives and admits them into his family. This ought to be carefully weighed; for all are not commanded to leave their parents and their former occupation, and literally (341) to follow Christ. There are some whom the Lord is satisfied with having in his flock and his Church, while he assigns to others their own station. Those who have received from him a public office ought to know, that something more is required from them than from private individuals. In the case of others, our Lord makes no change as to the ordinary way of life; but he withdraws those four disciples from the employment from which they had hitherto derived their subsistence, that he may employ their labors in a nobler office.

Christ selected rough mechanics, — persons not only destitute of learning, but inferior in capacity, that he might train, or rather renew them by the power of his Spirit, so as to excel all the wise men of the world. He intended to humble, in this manner, the pride of the flesh, and to present, in their persons, a remarkable instance of spiritual grace, that we may learn to implore from heaven the light of faith, when we know that it cannot be acquired by our own exertions. Again, though he chose unlearned and ignorant persons, he did not leave them in that condition; and, therefore, what he did ought not to be held by us to be an example, as if we were now to ordain pastors, who were afterwards to be trained to the discharge of their office. We know the rule which he prescribes for us, by the mouth of Paul that none ought to be called to it, unless they are apt to teach,” (1 Timothy 3:2.) When our Lord chose persons of this description it was not because he preferred ignorance to learning as some fanatics do, who are delighted with their own ignorance, and fancy that, in proportion as they hate literature, they approach the nearer to the apostles. He resolved at first, no doubt, to choose contemptible persons, in order to humble the pride of those who think that heaven is not open to the unlearned; but he afterwards gave to those fishers, as an associate in their office, Paul, who had been carefully educated from his childhood.

As to the meaning of the metaphor, fishers of men, there is no necessity for a minute investigation. Yet, as it was drawn from the present occurrence, the allusion which Christ made to fishing, when he spoke of the preaching of the Gospel, was appropriate: for men stray and wander in the world, as in a great and troubled sea, till they are gathered by the Gospel. The history related by the Evangelist John (John 1:37) differs from this: for Andrew, who had been one of John’s disciples, was handed over by him to Christ, and afterwards brought his brother along with him. At that time, they embraced him as their master, but were afterwards elevated to a higher rank.


Verse 29

Luke 5:29.And Levi made him a great banquet This appears to be at variance with what Luke relates, that he left all: but the solution is easy. Matthew disregarded every hinderance, and gave up himself entirely to Christ, but yet did not abandon the charge of his own domestic affairs. When Paul, referring to the example of soldiers, exhorts the ministers of the word to be free and disentangled from every hinderance, and to devote their labors to the church, he says:

No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of life,
that he may please the commander, (
2 Timothy 2:4.)

He certainly does not mean, that those who enroll themselves in the military profession divorce their wives, forsake their children, and entirely desert their homes; but that they quit their homes for a time, and leave behind them every care, that they may be wholly employed in war. In the same manner, nothing kept Matthew from following where Christ called; and yet he freely used both his house and his property, as far as the nature of his calling allowed. It was necessary, indeed, that he should leave the custom-house: for, had he been detained there, he would not have been a follower of Christ. (519)

It is called a great banquet, with reference not to the multitude of the guests, but to the abundance and magnificence of the provisions: for we know that Christ did not practise such austerity, as not to allow himself to be sometimes entertained more splendidly by the rich, provided that there were no superfluity. Yet we cannot doubt that, as he was a remarkable example of temperance, so he exhorted those who entertained him to frugality and moderation in diet, and would never have endured wasteful and extravagant luxuries. Matthew says that sinners that is, men of wicked lives and of infamous character came to the banquet. The reason was, that the publicans, being themselves generally hated and despised, did not disdain to associate with persons of that description; for, as moderate correction produces shame and humiliation in transgressors, so excessive severity drives some persons to despair, makes them leave off all shame, and abandon themselves to wickedness. In levying custom or taxes there was nothing wrong: but when the publicans saw themselves cast off as ungodly and detestable persons, they sought consolation in the society of those who did not despise them on account of the bad and disgraceful reputation which they shared along with them. Meanwhile, they mixed with adulterers, drunkards, and such characters; whose crimes they would have detested, and whom they would not have resembled, had not the public hatred and detestation driven them to that necessity.


Verse 39

Luke 5:39.And no person who has drunk old wine. This statement is given by Luke alone, and is undoubtedly connected with the preceding discourse. Though commentators have tortured it in a variety of ways, I take it simply as a warning to the Pharisees not to attach undue importance to a received custom. For how comes it that wine, the taste of which remains unaltered, is not equally agreeable to every palate, but because custom and habit form the taste? Hence it follows, that Christ’s manner of acting towards his disciples is not less worthy of approbation, because it has less show and splendor: as old wine, though it does not foam with the sharpness of new wine, is not less agreeable on that account, or less fitted for the nourishment of the body.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Luke 5:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/luke-5.html. 1840-57.

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