Luther preached on Luke 5:1-11. It is a marvelous sermon on labor and how we make our way in this life, but it is also a great stimulant for preachers and the effects of preaching. Preachers need to work hard and not be slovenly in their preaching. They need to be faithful and diligent and like the net of Peters that gets wet and broken, preaching is a life of tension and sometimes frustration and sometimes we break. Trying to get the right words in the right order is hard work. Looking at the same text that you have preached on twenty times and trying to find something “different”, finding somethig diferent may not be a good thing”. The effort it takes ot not use a text as a “pretext” for our own little issues and foibles is hard work. Somewhere in the sermon Luther says that preachers need to understand that “It is our comfort, however, that Christ, through our preaching, will lead his own into the boat, and will keep them there, although we know that we cannot make devout men of all to whom we preach, and that we cannot escape persecution on account of our office; yea, though we know that many will fall away even among those of whom we felt sure that we had them in the net.”
This is not a built-in excuse or reason to be a judge and decide who is a pagan and who isn’t. This is not the licence to decide who we will minister and who we won’t. It is a comfort that it is after all still Christ’s Church. It is encouragement to, as Paul says, become all things to all people so that by all means we might win some. Here is Luther.
Where I have preached and taught during the past ten or twenty years, there another could, perhaps, have done more in one year; and one sermon may bring forth more fruit than many others. Here, also, it is true that our labor, diligence and effort can accomplish nothing. These two things must go together, namely, that each one does his duty, and that he, nevertheless, acknowledges with Peter: “My labor cannot bring forth anything, if thou dost not give the increase.” As Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase,” etc.
28. In short, all human nature and life are so that, until God gives the increase, we may often labor long and much, and all to no purpose. But the work is not to cease on that account, nor should any man be found without work. He must wait for the increase till God gives it, as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 11:6: “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that,” etc.
29. However, the circumstances are especially pointed out under which work becomes useful and fruitful, namely, when Christ appears and commands to let down the nets, etc., that is, when there is a faith that takes hold of his Word and promise and then, cheerfully and bravely, does what has been commanded, waiting, with prayer and supplication, for his help and blessing. This is to say with Peter: “Lord, I have indeed done and labored and suffered ninth, but I know that I shall accomplish nothing thereby, unless thou art present to give strength and increase. I will therefore depend, not upon myself or my own works, but upon thy Word, and will leave everything to thy care.” Thus shall we prosper; and experience shows that Christ, when he is present, gives more as the result of little labor and effort than any one would have dared to hope. For there can be no failure or scanty fruits where he adds his blessing.
30. Thus the disciples could see the experience for themselves what a difference there is between the work they had done all the previous night without faith in Christ, and the work they did when, without prospect of taking anything, they nevertheless, through faith in Christ’s word, and at one draught, drew in an overflowing multitude of fishes. Therefore, if we accomplish little or nothing through our labor and effort, we must put the blame upon our unbelief, or upon the weakness of our faith, and not upon anything else.
31. Yet this is also true, that Christ often delays the bestowal of his help, as he did on this occasion, and on another, John 21, when he permitted the disciples to toil all the night without taking anything, and really appeared as if he would forget his own Word and promise.
But this he does that he may drive us to implore his help the more earnestly, and that we may learn to strengthen and maintain our faith, so that we do not doubt, or cease to labor, but continue to wait for the bestowal of his gifts in his own good time and way. For it is his purpose to guide all Christians into a knowledge and experience of the fact that their livelihood and help do not depend on what they see or do, but upon what is invisible and hidden. This he therefore calls his “hid treasure,” as we have already said in regard to Psalm 17:14:, that is, such blessing, help and deliverance as we have not perceived or laid hold of before, but are hidden in his Word and are grasped by faith.
32. Behold, this is the first part of our Gospel, the events of which took place and were recorded that Christians might be instructed and comforted by the fact that Christ cares even for the temporal needs of his Church, so that it is fed and supported, although it should come into a distress where everything is at the point of ruin, and where it seems to have done and suffered everything in vain. Always and everywhere does it happen that the Gospel, as it advances, brings poverty in its train, together with hunger and nakedness and want. But at last, when the storms of the devil have blown over a little, and the world’s greed and appetite have been satisfied, Christ comes and declares that he, too, is a Lord of the earth. For in Psalm 24:1 it is written: “The earth is Jehovah’s, and the fullness thereof,” etc.