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Lest We Offend Them

“Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them,
go thou to the sea, and east a hook,
and take up the fish that first cometh up;
and when thou hast opened his mouth,
thou shalt find a piece of money:
that take,
and give unto them for me and thee.”
 Matt. 17:27.


In the midst of this supernatural scene, a sanction is thus given by our Saviour to the use of means. The supply was, in its source, preparation, and announcement, miraculous yet Peter, who is to receive it as a favor, is to procure it by his instrumentality. The peculiar nature of the instance only renders it the more conclusive for if our Lord would not dispense with the use of means in an extraordinary case, surely he will not dispense with it in an ordinary one. Some good, but not very wise people seem to think that instrumentality detracts from the divine glory, and that God is honored more by acting immediately. But instrumentality supposes and requires agency, and the means themselves are always the Lord’s own, and he gives them their success. His producing an effect by various concurrences and cooperations displays more of his perfections and gives more opportunity to observe them, than his causing a result by an instant volition.


Here was something which Peter could do, and something which he could not do. He could not replenish the fish with the money, or make it to swim in the direction of his bait, but he could procure the bait, and throw in the hook, and in the most likely place, and stand and watch. Why does he not cause the fish to spring ashore, and appear at once upon Peter’s table? Because he would not sanction indolence; because he would render even his miracles moral as well as marvellous; because his exertions were not a mere parade of power, but a display of wisdom and goodness, meeting indigence, relieving weakness, confirming faith, but not encouraging folly and presumption; teaching us to trust, but forbidding us to tempt him.


In like manner, there is always something which we cannot do, and something which we can do. But the evil is, that we commonly derive from the former excuses for our neglect of the latter; and so God’s agency becomes a reason for our inactivity, instead of exciting our diligence. But this is perfectly contrary to the meaning of the apostle, when he says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you to will and to do of his good pleasure.” In natural things we are wiser. Can the husbandman produce an ear of corn? He knows it is perfectly impossible. But he can manure and plough and sow, and in the use of these he expects the divine efficiency, but never in the neglect of them. No man can quicken his own soul. Yet there are means which are designed and adapted to save us; and we can pray, Come, thou north wind; and blow, thou south.” It is thus that religion possesses the evidence of analogy; and in the God of grace, we see the God of nature. He feeds the fowls of the air, not by putting it into their mouths, but by furnishing provision; and giving them wings and eyes and feet and beaks, to find and make it their own. “That thou givest them, they gather;” and thus “he satisfies the desire of every living thing.” He could warm us without the fire, and sustain us without food; but we know what would be the consequence were we to disregard these, under a notion of honoring him by a dependence on his agency.


Though the effect here was beyond the means, yet there was an adaptation in them. Peter was a fisherman, and he is employed in his own line; and his fishing was not only the condition of the result, but the medium, and conduced to it. And in general, we may observe that while the insufficiency of the means serves to display the power of God, the suitableness of them shows his wisdom. And such a suitableness there is. A pen cannot write without a hand to use it, yet there is an adaptation in the instrument to the work. Some seem to use the means of grace only as tests of their submission to the divine appointment, not as things which have a real tendency even in themselves to do them good. They expect the divine blessing in them, but not by them; that is, not as an effect resulting from them under the divine influence—as if in the use of them they were planting and watering pebbles, which, by an almighty exertion, could be made to yield produce, instead of using them as a man sows wheat, and looks for wheat to arise from it. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing tends to produce it by informing and convincing the mind. The same may be said of a religious education, in forming the moral and pious character of the child.


Peter did well not to disobey or reason, but to follow implicitly the divine order, fully expecting success. And he was not, and could not be disappointed. And thus let us act without murmuring or disputing. Let us use the means which he has prescribed, not only swayed by his authority, but relying on his promise, that none of those that wait for him shall be ashamed.


Rev. Wm. Jay

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