John 21 : 6: "And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes."
"Our blessed Saviour taught by acts, as well as words. He gave out parables in deeds, as well as in stories and descriptions. All His works of wonder were living allegories—pictures and prophecies incarnated in visible and tangible facts. This is particularly true of the miracle to which the text refers. It was a supernatural thing, to prove the divine power of Him by whom it was wrought; but its chief significance lies in its symbolic character as an illustration of that catching of men by the preaching of the Gospel to which the Apostles were called and ordained."
"At the beginning of his ministry, seeing Peter and Andrew casting a net into the sea, He said unto them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men;" that is, ministers of the Word, who by the holding forth of the truth were to cast the great evangelic net into the sea of the world, and enclose people as Christian believers and members of the Church. So He also said, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away." So, likewise, when He commanded Peter to launch out into the deep and let down the nets for a draught, which resulted in taking such a multitude of fishes that the nets brake in the drawing, and two boats were loaded down to the sinking point with the product, He meant to show the disciples not only His divine power, but a picture of that mystic fishing on which he was about to send them, and which was to be the work of His ministers in all the ages. And the miracle before us is a corresponding picture of the same thing—with this difference, that the other instances refer to the Church nominal and visible as it appears to human view, embracing both good and bad, to be assorted in the day of judgment; whilst the reference here, is to the inward, true, invisible Church— the Church as it appears to the eye of God— which includes none but the good, the genuine children of grace and salvation, the definite number of real saints.
It is thus abundantly established and clear that in the symbology of the Scriptures and the teachings of Christ the congregation of those who profess to believe in Him—that is, the Church—is likened to fishes enclosed in the fisherman's net. The world is likened to a sea, in which natural men range without control, following their own likes and impulses, and belonging to no one. So the Gospel is likened to a net, which the ministering servants of the Lord spread in the waters in order to enclose and gather men—not to destroy them, but to secure them for Christ, that they may be held by His word and grace and be His peculiar possession. And when they are thus secured and brought within the enclosure of the influences and laws of the Gospel as Christ's professed followers, and formed into His congregation, they are His mystic fishes, caught by His command and direction and made His peculiar property. The aptness of the figure no one can dispute, and the scripturalness of the imagery is fixed and settled beyond all possibility of mistake. Christ himself makes fishes the symbol of His Church.
But as is the picture in the Scriptures, so we find in the figures of the constellations. The new life that rises out of the death of the sacrificial goat is in the form of a large and vigorous fish. Those who come to the heavenly Waterman to drink in the stream of living influences which he pours down from on high are represented by a great fish. And as the Church is the most important institute, result, and embodiment of the redemptive work and achievements of the Seed of the woman, so we have one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac specially and exclusively devoted to it; and that sign is the sign of the fishes, which we are now to consider.
The Sign Of Pisces
This constellation is now the first in the order of the twelve signs of the Zodiac; but in the original order, which I have been following, it is the seventh. The figure by which it is represented consists of two large fishes, one headed toward the north pole, and the other parallel with the path of the Sun. They are some distance apart, but are tied to the two ends of a long, undulating band or ribbon, which is held by the foot of the Ram in the next succeeding sign.
The names of this sign in Hebrew and Arabic, as in the Greek and Latin, mean the same as in English—the Fishes. In Syriac it is called Nuno, the Fish prolonged, the fish with the idea of posterity or successive generations. In Coptic its name is Pi-cot Orion, the Fish, congregation, or company of the coming Prince. Two prominent names in the sign are Okda, the United, and Al Samaca, the Upheld. And all the indications connected with Pisces tend to the conclusion that in these two great fishes we are to see and read precisely what was symbolized by Christ in the miracle to which the text refers; namely, a pictorial representation of the Church.
The origin of this sign, as mythology gives it, is not at variance with this idea. It is said that Venus and Cupid were one day on the banks of the Euphrates, and were there surprised by the apparition of the giant monster Typhon. To save themselves they plunged into the river, and escaped by being changed into fishes—saved by transformation through water. To commemorate the occurrence it is said that Minerva placed these two fishes among the stars.
We have already noted some symbolic connection between the mythic Venus and the Church. The ancient Phoenicians, according to Nigidius, asserted that she was hatched from an egg by a heavenly dove. Cupid, or the ancient Eros, was held to be the first-born of the creation, one of the causes in the formation of the world, the uniting love-power which brought order and harmony to the conflicting elements of Chaos. The later fables of Cupid are remote inventions out of the original cosmic Eros, the ideas concerning whom well agree with the sign, and readily interpret in their application to Christ and the Church. Christ was "the first-born of every creature " (Col. 1:15), and is the Head of "the general assembly and Church of the first-born," who, through His uniting love, combines the chaotic elements of humanity into order and union with himself, bringing into being the mystic woman, "born of water and of the Spirit," which is part of His own mystic organism, His body. By that means also those who compose the Church escape the hundredheaded enemy of God and all good. And in so far as this sign of the Fishes was divinely framed and placed in the heavens to commemorate this transformation and deliverance by water, it is nothing more nor less than a divine symbol of the Church—the impersonation of escape from horrible confusion and destruction, as also of that new-creating love of God, the mother of all holy order and salvation.
Twofoldness Of The Church
These Fishes are two in number. The general idea thus expressed is the idea of multitude, which is characteristic of all the sacred promises relating to the success of the Messianic work among men. The Church, in comparison with the great unsanctified world around it, is always a "little flock "—a special elect called out from among the great body of mankind outside of itself—just as the fishes enclosed in a net are but a small portion of the myriads that are in the sea. But, in itself considered, multitudinousness is always one of its characteristics. To Abraham it was figured as the stars of the sky and as the sand on the seashore for multitude. To Ezekiel the sacred waters embraced "a very great multitude of fish." Every symbolic casting of the net at Christ's command took a great multitude of fishes. The very name carries in it the idea of multitude, and the duplication of the symbol gives the still further idea of outspread multiplication—a glorious company of Apostles, a goodly fellowship of Prophets, a noble army of Martyrs, a holy Church throughout all the world.
But, beyond this, the Church, in historical fact and development, is twofold. There was a Church before Christ, and there is a Church since Christ; and whilst these two make up the one universal Church, they are still quite distinct in character. The patriarchal Church, which was more definitely organized under the institutes given by Moses, was one. It is a singular fact that the ancient rabbis always considered the people of Israel as denoted by this sign. The Sethites and Shemites, and all adherents to the true God and His promises and worship, were by both themselves and the heathen astronomically associated with these Fishes. They are certainly one set of the great Saviour's fishes. The Christian Church, organized under the institutes of Jesus Christ, was the other of these Fishes. Though in some sense the same old Church reformed, it was still in many respects quite another—so much so that it became apostasy to turn from it to "the beggarly elements" of the former dispensation. Here, then, are the two great branches or departments of the one great universal Church of the promised Seed of the woman. To the one His coming was future, and so it dealt in types, shadows, symbols, and figures of the true. To the other the ancient anticipations have passed into actual fact, and exist as living realities, already far on the way toward the final consummation. The faith of both is the same, and the spiritual life of both is the same. Hence both are mystic Fishes. But the stage of development, the historical place and condition, and the entire external economy, are different, as type and antitype are different, though in interior substance one and the same. The Fish in its multitudinousness symbolizes both. The old Church was the Fish arising out of the slain sacrifice believed in in advance, and signified in the old ordinances; and the new Church, organized under Christ, is the Fish arising afresh out of the same, which has now become an accomplished and existing reality. Hence the whole thing was fore-signified in the stars under the image of two Fishes, which are indeed two under one method of conception, and yet one and the same in another method of conception. It is the one Fish in both, yet two Fishes in historic presentation and external dispensation.
The Decans of this sign serve to bring out this idea with great clearness. The first Decan is a very long waving Ribbon or Band. The ancient name of it is Al Risha, the Band or bridle. It is one, continuous, unbroken piece, and so doubled that one of its ends goes out to the northern Fish, and is tightly bound around its tail; whilst the other end goes out to the other Fish, and is fastened to it in the same way. By this Band these two Fishes are inseparably tied together, so that the one cannot get on without the other. And so the fact is. The patriarchal Church is really tied to the Christian Church. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that the ancient saints, from Adam onward, could not be made perfect without us (chap, 11 :4o). The consummation of all they hoped for was inevitably tied up with what was to be subsequently achieved by Christ, much of which is still a matter of promise and hope. And so the Christian Church is really tied to the patriarchal Church. All the necessary preparations and foundations for Christianity were vouchsafed through the Old Testament. What was then testified, believed, and looked for we must needs also accept, believe, and take in. The Christian does not stand just where the ancient believer stood, but the old was the bridge by which the new was reached. Christ came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them, and to complete what they looked to and anticipated. There could be no Christian Church without the patriarchal going before it, just as there could be no patriarchal Church without the Christian coming after it to complete and fulfil what the old was meant to prepare for. And here is the Band of connection unalterably binding them together in a unity which still is dual.
The doubled part of this Band, strange to say, is in the hand or front foot of the symbolic figure in the next succeeding sign; that is, in the hand of Aries, the Ram or Lamb. The point of unity between these two Fishes is therefore in Christ and His administrations, by which both are equally affected and upheld. Both belong to Christ in the attitude of the reigning and victorious Lamb. He upholds, guides, and governs them by one and the same Band. These Fishes thus have their places and status by His appointment and authority. They are caught Fishes, no longer roaming at large according to their own will. They are bound together in the hand of the glorious Lamb. They are His, and are upheld, governed, and made to fulfil their offices and mission by His power, will, and grace. And this is precisely the relation and condition of the Church in all dispensations. Like the net of Peter, which held, controlled, and lifted the literal fishes enclosed by it, so this Band holds, controls, and lifts the mystic Fishes which constitute the Church. It is the tie of connection between all saints, and at the same time the tie of connection between them and the glorified Saviour, by whose word they have been taken and made His precious possession. "Without Me ye can do nothing," was His word when on earth; and ever of old His promise has been: "Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right liand of my righteousness" And here is the same word pictorially expressed.
Who the friend and protector of these Fishes is, the second accompanying side-piece also very sublimely shows. Here is the figure of a glorious king, wearing his royal robe, bearing aloft a branch or sceptre, and having on his head a crown of stars. He is calmly seated in the repose of power, with one foot on the solstitial colure,* and the other on the pole-star itself, whilst his right hand grasps the Ribbons. Bearing with us what the Scriptures tell of the present exaltation and glory of Jesus Christ, we here behold every particular so completely and thrillingly embraced that the picture stands self-interpreted. It so vividly portrays our enthroned Saviour, and fits so sublimely to Him, and to Him only, that no special prompting is necessary to enable us to see Him in it. And if we need further assurance on the subject, we find it in the accompanying star-names.
*(astronomy) That great circle of the celestial sphere through the celestial poles and the solstices.
On the right shoulder of this figure, in glittering brilliancy, shines a star whose name, Al Deramin, means the Quickly-returning. In the girdle shines another, equally conspicuous, whose name, Al Phirk, means the Redeemer. In the left knee is still another, whose name means the Shepherd. The Egyptians called this royal figure Pe-ku-hor, the Ruler that cometh. His more common designation is Cepheus, which means the royal Branch, the King. Everything thus combines to identify this figure as intended to represent our Saviour as now enthroned in glory, even the Seed of the woman, clothed with celestial royalty and dominion.
In the Zodiac of Dendera the figure in this constellation is a large front leg of an animal connected with a small figure of a sheep, in the same posture as Aries in the next sign. It is the strong hand of the Lamb, and so the same which holds the Band of the Fishes. It identifies what is otherwise represented as a glorious king with the upholder of the Fishes, and makes Cepheus one and the same with the victorious Lamb.
Christ has been really invested with all royal rights and dominion. It was predicted of Him from of old, "He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne" (Zech. 6: 13). And so the testimony of the Apostles is that, having been made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, and having humbled himself to the cross for our redemption, God hath highly exalted Him, and set Him on His own right hand in the heavens, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all (Eph. 1 : 19-23). Hence also it is said to all believers, "Ye are complete in Him, which is the Head of all principality and power" (Col. 2:10). With a high hand and an outstretched arm He sitteth in royal majesty to help, uphold, and deliver His Church; "and of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end."