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The Piece of Money Found in the Fish's Mouth

Matt. 17:24-the end.

And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute-money came to Peter, and said, Does not your Master pay tribute? etc.

Q. WHAT do you understand here by the word tribute?

A. According to its literal sense it means a tax imposed by the Roman government on all those who were not Roman citizens, and thus free men; but according to the spiritual idea, by tribute is to be understood a mark of servitude, and therefore, according to this idea, the inquiry, Does not your Master pay tribute, is an inquiry respecting the principles of servitude and of freedom, and who are the subjects of those principles.

Q. But it follows, that Peter replies to this question in the affirmative, saying, Yes; and that when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What think thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? what instruction do you learn from these words?

A. From the letter of these words I learn that another inquiry was made, and this by Jesus Christ Himself, about custom or tribute, and of whom it is to be taken. I learn also from the same source a further proof of the divinity of Jesus Christ, as discoverable from this circumstance, that He was acquainted with the thoughts of Peter, and therefore, as it is said, prevented him, or, as it might be otherwise expressed, anticipated what he had to say. But from the spiritual sense of the words I am instructed, that Jesus Christ Himself suggests the important question to all true believers concerning servitude and freedom, which question leads to the interesting and edifying conclusion, that the spiritual principle in man is free, and intended to be so, but that the natural principle serves, and was created for that purpose. For it can never be supposed that the incarnate god would propose to His apostle Peter an inquiry, which had no deeper ground than an investigation concerning the right of taking custom or tribute, if nothing of a more spiritual nature had been involved in the inquiry. Accordingly this incarnate god testifies in another place, My words are spirit and life, (John vi. 63), but what spirit, or what life is discoverable in the above question if it be conceived to relate only to the custom or tribute taken by the kings of the earth?

Q. But how does it appear that this inquiry leads to the conclusion, that the spiritual principle in man is free, and was intended to be so, but that the natural principle serves, and was created for that purpose?

A. This appears from the two terms here applied by Jesus Christ, namely. their own children and strangers, when spoken of the kings of the earth. For in the language and idea of the incarnate god, by kings of the earth are not here to be understood kings of the earth according to the literal sense of the words, but according to the spiritual sense, agreeable to which latter sense, by kings of the earth, are to be understood the primary or principal truths of the church, for in the church all rule and dominion are derived from truths, and therefore all in the church, who are principled in truth, are called kings and princes in the sacred Scriptures. By the children then of these kings are to be understood all those in the church who receive truth into their minds and lives, thus all who are spiritual-minded, whilst by strangers are to be understood all, who do not admit truths into their minds and lives, thus who remain in a mere natural state, and are natural minded. When therefore Peter answered, of strangers; and when Jesus Christ replied, Then are the children free, the conclusion is plain, that the natural-minded pay tribute, or serve, but that the spiritual-minded are exempt from tribute, or are free.

Q. But the blessed Jesus continues his discourse in these words: Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go you to the sea, and cast a hook, and take the the fish that first comes up; and when you have opened his mouthy you shall find a piece of money; that take, and give to them for me and you what further instruction do you derive from these words?

A. From the literal sense of these words, I am again led to adore the divine omnipotence of my god and saviour, together with His compassionate tenderness expressed in His willingness not to give offence. For in preparing a fish, which should supply a piece of money sufficient to answer the demands of those who received tribute, He gave a full and unequivocal demonstration of divine omnipotence, and when He assigns as a reason for this, lest we should offend. He gives a proof equally positive of His compassionate tenderness leading Him to make all reasonable allowance for the customs and laws of civil society; as He says in another place, Render therefore, to Caesar the things which are Caesar's, (Matt. 22:21). But if the literal sense of the above words be thus edifying, how much more is their spiritual sense! For according to their spiritual sense they confirm, in terms the most significative, and by images the most striking and instructive, what has been above observed concerning the two principles, the natural and the spiritual, by proving that the former serves, but that the latter is free. The blessed Jesus therefore does not send His apostle into the street, as He might have done, to seek and to find a piece of money, nor does He send Him, as He might have clone with equal success, to borrow it of His neighbours, but He sends him to the sea, because the sea is a representative figure of the natural principle above referred to, agreeable to what was observed in the explanation of a former miracle, (Matt. 8:23 to 28). He bids him also cast a hook into this sea, and take up the fish that first comes up, because both the hook and the fish were alike significative as the sea, the hook being significative of the power of apprehending, and the fish being significative of what was to be apprehended, namely. something of a scientific nature which had life in it, and which was accordingly distinct from the dead principle in which it originated, because it was not merely natural, but by virtue of its connection; with a spiritual principle, or with some end of use, might be called spiritual-natural. In the mouth of this fish, therefore, was to be found a piece of money, (in the original a stater, which was a piece of silver), because a piece of money, or a piece of silver is a figure equally striking with the foregoing, of truth from a spiritual origin, to which a living principle of science, is ever open, and with which it is connected. For the principle of science in man may be either alive or dead, according to the end which it respects, and to which it is directed, being alive, if it respects an eternal end, but dead, if it; respects only a temporal end. It is the living principle of science therefore, in which alone the piece of money is to be found, because it is only the living principle of science which is open to truth from a spiritual origin, and in connection with it. The blessed Jesus, then, would thus teach Peter, and with Peter all who are principled in evangelical faith, the necessity of consulting science, and of apprehending such scientific truths as have life in them, that they may thus find in those truths the piece of money requisite to satisfy the demands of the receivers of tribute; in other words, that they may find truth from a spiritual origin requisite to prove that the spiritual principle in man, as being from the god of heaven, is a free principle, but that the natural principle is born to serve. He therefore adds in conclusion, That take, and give for me and you. It is however impossible for the careless and thoughtless reader to comprehend the above explanation of this interesting miracle, neither is it to be expected that the serious and well-disposed Christian will acquiesce and be perfectly satisfied with its reasonableness, unless he has previously weighed well in his mind the nature of divine speech, so as to discern that when god speaks, He annexes to His expressions ideas very different from those which man annexes to the same expressions. Thus, when god speaks, as in the above instance, of the sea, of a hook, of a fish, of a piece of money, and of giving this piece of money for Himself and His apostle, it is not to be supposed, because it is not reasonable to suppose, that by such language He designs to express the same sentiments which man would express by it, since god must of necessity annex to His language divine and spiritual ideas, as man annexes to his language human and natural ideas. In order then to comprehend in any degree the language of the almighty, it is necessary that the mind of the hearer or reader become spiritual; in other words, become open to the perception of spiritual and eternal realities, as they are contained in and conveyed by natural and temporal images. Thus, and thus only, can it be expected that the mystery of the above miracle will become intelligible, and that the true ground and reason will be discovered why the incarnate god was pleased to send His apostle Peter to the sea, and there to cast in a hook, and take up the fish that first came up, and to open its mouth; and when he had found therein a piece of money, to take and give it for them both.

Q. What then is the general instruction which you learn from this miracle?

A. From the letter, or literal sense of this miracle, I learn the edifying lesson, that the blessed Jesus, when he sojourned here on earth, paid respect to the laws and customs of civil society, insomuch that He worked a miracle to satisfy the demands of those laws and customs, and thus gave an example to all His followers, never to give offence on such occasions. But from the spirit, or spiritual sense of the same history, I receive additional instruction, and this on a point of the utmost importance to be well understood, namely. what principle in man is free, and what principle serves; and that the spiritual principle in man is of the former description, and the natural principle is of the latter. I am instructed yet further, that when god speaks to man, He always annexes divine and spiritual ideas to all His expressions, so that when He applies, as in the case of this miracle, the natural terms sea, a hook, a fish, a piece of money, He applies them in a sense very different from that in which man applies them, because He uses them as natural images expressive of His own all-wise, instructive and divine sentiments. I am resolved therefore to attend well to the above interesting lessons of heavenly instruction, first, by distinguishing well in my own mind the two principles of freedom and of servitude, until I am led to exalt in myself what is spiritual above what is natural; in other words, to exalt a spiritual end, spiritual objects, and spiritual goods, above natural ends, natural objects, and natural goods; and secondly, by fixing deep in my mind the edifying persuasion, that all the words of god, though expressed according to natural language, must of necessity contain in them divine ideas, and that consequently when He employs natural images, as the sea, a hook, a fish, a piece of money, etc. he does not mean to express by them the mere natural things which they suggest to the natural mind of man, but those spiritual and eternal realities which relate to Himself and His everlasting kingdom. Amen,

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