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Now when He had left speaking, He said to Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a drain. And Simon answering, said to Him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing; nevertheless at your word I will let down the net, etc.
Q. What do you here understand by Jesus saying to Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a drain?
A. According to the sense of the letter, the injunction of Jesus to Simon, on this occasion, relates to the catching of fish, and to the extraordinary success, which would attend his obedience to the divine command. But according to the spiritual sense involved in every particular of this history, the above words have relation to another sort of fishes, namely. to that of which the prophet speaks, where he writes, Behold, I will send for many fishers, says the lord, and they shall fish them, (Jer. 16:16). This spiritual fishing is also expressly spoken of in the history under consideration, where it is written, that Jesus said to Simon? Fear not, from now on you shall catch men. According then to the spiritual sense of this history, the above words relate to the methods most expedient for the catching of men; in other words, for instructing them in evangelical truths, and thus enclosing them in that spiritual net mentioned in the parable, and of which it is said, The kingdom of heaven is like a net cast into the sea, which gathers of every kind, (Matt. 13:47).
Q. And in agreement with this spiritual idea of fishing and of a net, what do you conceive to be meant by the divine command, to launch out into the deep, and to let down nets for a drain?
A. By the deep is here spiritually to be understood the abyss of the natural and sensual affections and thoughts of mankind, thus all who are under the influence of such affections and thoughts; and by launching out into the deep, and letting down nets for a drain, is further to be under stood application to persons of such a character, together with such an accommodation of heavenly truths to their capacity of apprehension, that they may be persuaded to believe, and may thus be introduced into the Christian church.
Q. But it is written that Simon answering, said, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing; nevertheless at your word I will let down the net — what do you understand by these words?
A. According to their spiritual meaning, these words teach a lesson of weighty instruction to all those, who, like Simon, are called to the high office of catching men; for they teach that whilst man toils in the night of his own self-will and self-love, unenlightened by divine wisdom, and unsupported by divine power, his labour is vain, and he takes nothing; but no sooner does he renounce his own will and wisdom, to place himself under the guidance and government of revealed truth, and it's god, than he also, like the fishermen in the history, is successful in his labours, so as to enclose a great multitude of fishes; in other words, to introduce a great multitude of men to the knowledge and love of the incarnate god, and His holy word.
Q. You are perfectly right in your interpretation, but how will you reconcile it with what next follows, where it is written, that their net break?
A. By the net breaking, according to the spiritual idea of a net, as above explained, is to be understood a want of coherence in the truths or doctrines of which the spiritual net is composed, For when man first commences a spiritual fishery by endeavouring to instruct others in the great truths of the gospel, he generally begins to teach from his understanding enlightened and enriched with heavenly knowledge, more than from his will, or from the influence of heavenly love and charity, in which case the net always breaks, because nothing gives to truth its proper consistence and coherence, but the good of heavenly love and life from which it is derived. Accordingly Jesus Christ, on another occasion, requires His disciples to cast the net on the right side of the ship, (John 21:6), because, as was observed in the explanation of a former miracle, by the right side, when distinguished from the left, is represented and signified the above principle of heavenly good of love and charity. The necessity and benefit of this principle is also proved from what immediately follows, where it is written, That they beckoned to their partners who 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.
Q. How do these words prove the necessity and the benefit of the principle of love and charity, to make the spiritual fisher, or to enable Him to teach spiritual truths to advantage?
A. By the partners here spoken of, which were in the other ship, are meant James and John, the sons of Zebedee, as appears from ver. 10 of this chapter, and by James and John, as was shown in treating of the miracle of the transfiguration, are figured and represented charity and the works of charity, and therefore by beckoning to them for their assistance is to be understood supplication for the aid of those heavenly principles; that so the understanding might no longer operate under the influence of mere speculative doctrines, but might submit itself to the guidance and government of the supreme good, and thus of the divine father of all good. For such is the case in regard to the great work of regeneration, whether it relate to the church in general, or to an individual member of the church in particular, that it must commence with instruction, which is a kind of spiritual fishing, since without instruction there can be no regeneration. But all instruction, at its commencement, is in the way of truth or knowledge imparted to the understanding, nor at that period is the necessity seen of consulting the higher principles of heaven-born love and charity, by seeking their co-operation. This necessity, however, is soon discovered by the breaking of the net, which is a certain consequence of the separation of truth and its doctrine from their parent good, for when this is the case, truth and its doctrine must of course want coherence and consistency. At this period then it is, that an inversion of the state takes place, so that speculative knowledge is no longer allowed to have the preeminence, but is compelled to submit itself to the guidance and government of higher principles, which are in nearer connection with god and His kingdom.
Q. But it is said on this occasion, that both the ships, token they were thus filled, began to sink — how do you reconcile the sinking of the ships with what you have been saying concerning heavenly love and charity, which might have been expected to preserve both the ships, and those who were in them from such a calamity ?
A. We have here an additional proof of the divine wisdom contained under the letter of the sacred Scriptures, and of the necessity of exploring that wisdom in order to rescue the sacred volume from the charge of being, in some instances, trifling and insignificant. For, separate from its internal spiritual meaning, what can be the importance of the information here given, that both the ships began to sink? It is necessary then to consider, and to consider attentively, what is here to be understood by a ship beginning to sink, and why a circumstance so apparently trivial should be thought worthy to be recorded in the Book of Revelation. For from such consideration, aided by the light of the eternal truth, we shall be enabled to discover, that by the two ships here spoken of, which were filled with fishes, is figuratively described the lord's new church, as to the knowledges of good and of truth, at that time about to be established, and that by their beginning to sink is figuratively and forcibly represented the effect of evil in that church, which, at the time, was not subdued and removed. For all evil, it is well known, is in its proper nature heavy, and inclined to sink, because it has always a tendency to decline downwards from god, by immersing itself in the unclean and earthly loves of self and of the world. The effect therefore of this evil is here recorded, in order to teach the salutary lesson, that it is not sufficient for the church and its members to be instructed in heavenly knowledge, and to join to that instruction heavenly inclinations, unless they go on to apply that knowledge and their good desires to the removal of evil, by searching out and combating all the concupiscencies of selfish and worldly love. For until this evil be removed, the ship must sink; but no sooner is that dead weight separated from the sinking vessel, than it presently rises again above all the waves of trial and of danger, and pursues its steady and secure course to the haven of peace. There are therefore three things more especially necessary for man's salvation: 1st, Instruction, which is here signified by letting down the net for a drain. 2dly, Charity, or the affection of good, resulting from instruction, and here figured by beckoning to their partners, who were in the other ship, to come and help them. And 3dly, the Application of both to the discovery and removal of evil, which evil is here represented by the ships beginning to sink.
Q. How then do you understand the words which follow, where it is written, When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at jesus's knees, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O lord ?
A. These words confirm the idea above suggested concerning the manifestation of evil, as an effect resulting from instruction in truth, and from the reception of the affection of good which the truth inspires. For the words are evidently words of deep humiliation, under a feeling sense of disorderly and evil propensities, which had not before been discovered, on which occasion it is remarkable that Peter says to his lord, Depart from me. For such is the effect of the first manifestation of evil in the penitent bosom, that it causes pain, which pain is supposed to result, not so much from the evil manifested, as from the heavenly light by which it is manifested, and therefore the sinner is led to supplicate at the time the removal of that light, until he is further instructed that his own corrupt propensities, and not the light, are the cause of his suffering. Thus the history of Simon Peter, in this instance, is a history of the church, in all ages and places, whether amongst nations or individuals, describing its commencement, its progress, and its maturity; its commencement, by instruction in the knowledge of heavenly truth, its progress, by the conjunction of truth with its good, and its maturity, by leading to deep humiliation before Jesus Christ, resulting from a sense of hereditary and actual evil.
Q. But it is written, that Jesus said to Simon, Fear not; from now on you shall catch men — how do you understand these words?
A. According to the spiritual idea of this miracle, as above unfolded, by Jesus saying to Simon, Fear not, is to be understood the communication of divine strength and confidence, suggesting the consolatory persuasion that man has nothing to fear from evil, whenever it is made manifest, and is regarded according to its proper nature, as contrary to god and His righteousness, since evil is only to be dreaded when it conceals itself, and is not seen in its proper colours of malignity and mischief. It therefore follows in the way of consolation, from hereforth you shall catch men, for to catch men, according to the spiritual idea, is to attain to wisdom and intelligence, as is always the case, whenever the natural evils of selfish and worldly love are seen and removed, under the influence of heavenly truth and heavenly good; Agreeable then to the spiritual idea, there are two kinds of fishing proper to the church in general, and to every individual of the church in particular, viz. first, the apprehension of truth in the way of science or knowledge, both in the memory and under standing; and secondly, the apprehension of truth as a principle of life in the will or love, leading to the discovery and rejection of all evil, because it is contrary to god, and leading further to the love and practice of all that is wise and good, because it is pleasing to god, and conducts to eternal conjunction with Him. The former apprehension of truth is distinguished by catching fish, and the latter by catching men.
Q. And what instruction do. you learn from the concluding words of this miracle, where it is said, That when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed Him?
A. According to the literal sense of these words, they teach the edifying lesson, that when Simon Peter and his partners James and John brought their ships to land, they forsook both their ships and all their other property, that they might become the companions of the blessed Jesus . But according to the spiritual sense, the above words teach a lesson still more edifying, namely. that they who are represented by Peter, by James, and by John; in other words, they who are principled in faith, in charity, and in works of charity, when they have brought their ships to land, or, what amounts to the same, when they are advanced from a state of truth to the good of truth, submit their will and their wisdom entirely to the guidance and control of the divine will and wisdom of Jesus Christ, and thus follow Him In the regeneration, until they become His purified children, and meet for introduction into His heavenly kingdom. For by forsaking all is not to be understood the alienation of worldly property, such as houses, lands, and riches, but the renunciation of mental possessions, such as the faculties of loving, of understanding, of judging, etc. etc.; and by following Jesus is not to be understood association with Him merely as to person, but conjunction as to mind, consisting in the humble grateful acknowledgement that all the above faculties are from Him, and therefore His, thus that they ought to be submitted continually to His holy government and guidance.
Q. What then is the general instruction which you learn from the above miracle?
A. From its literal history I am again taught to adore that omnipotence of the incarnate god, which exercises a control even over the living creatures inhabiting the depths of the sea. But from the spiritual sense of that history, I am taught a lesson still more extended and edifying, because I am instructed that it is the will of Jesus Christ, that all His children should become spiritual fishers; in other words, that they should collect natural or scientific truths, as the means of accommodating spiritual truths to the apprehension of the natural or scientific man. I learn further, that in this descent into natural knowledge or science, there is a danger lest the net should break, or, what amounts to the same, lest truth should lose its consistence and coherence, by being separated from the higher principles of heavenly love and life, and that therefore it is necessary to consult with and exalt those principles on the occasion. I am instructed yet further, that notwithstanding all attainments in knowledge, and in the heavenly affections to which it conducts, the ship will still sink, unless that knowledge and those affections be applied to the discovery and removal of the natural evils of self-love and the love of the world. Lastly, I learn, that when natural evils are thus made manifest and subdued, the ship is then brought to land, on which occasion the true disciples, or they who are principled in faith, in charity, and in the works of charity, forsake all and follow Jesus ; in other words, renounce their own natural will and wisdom, that at all times they may consult and obey the will and wisdom of their heavenly father. I am resolved, therefore, to attend well to the above divine instruction, by applying myself to the attainment of scientific truth, and by taking good heed lest in this application I should at any time separate truth from its good, or knowledge from the life of knowledge, and lest thus my net should break. I am resolved further to apply both truth and its good to the exploration and rejection of all my natural evils of selfish and worldly love, that so my ship may be prevented from sinking, and being brought safe to land, I may arrive at the high honour and happiness of imitating the disciples of old, by forsaking all and following Jesus. amen,
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