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The swimming of fishes reminds us of the flying of birds; but their home is in the cold, heavy water instead of the sunshiny air. Fishes themselves are cold creatures; their senses are dull compared with birds; they are voracious feeders; they have no cheerful songs.
Their likeness to birds suggests that fishes correspond to affections for intellectual activity. And what does the fact that they live in the water instead of the air show in regard to the kind of thoughts to which they have relation? Plainly the fishes of the mind enjoy a lower, less spiritual kind of thought than the birds. The water, which is their home, corresponds, as we shall by and by see, to truth of a natural kind - truth of natural science, of worldly industries, of the letter of the Word, and of practical right and wrong. (Chapter 28) This is the atmosphere of thought which the fishes of the mind enjoy. (AR 238, 290) They do not rise to spiritual things, and to look at life from the spiritual side. (AE 513, 342; AR 405)
Boys and girls know the interest in gathering facts of natural science. They know how it eagerly turns here and there and feeds upon the observations which the senses furnish. Such an interest in gathering facts of science is a hungry fish swimming in the water and devouring all the little creatures which come within his reach. And presently some larger fish swallows up our little fish with many others like him. So stronger, broader scientific minds absorb the observations of smaller minds and deduce from them the great principles of science. There is in ourselves an enjoyment in grasping the broader principles of knowledge, which feeds upon our special interests in particular subjects. This is a larger fish feeding upon the little ones.
The noblest of sea creatures are the whales and others of their family, large, warm-blooded, coming to the air to breathe, ranging through the seas and absorbing vast multitudes of little creatures. They picture a very comprehensive interest in scientific knowledge, which enjoys the air and sunshine of spiritual thought, and delights to gather from all departments of natural knowledge evidences of the Lord's love and revelations of His wisdom. (AC 42, 991)
We have spoken of the interest in natural science as an example of the spiritual fish. The interest in knowledge of worldly affairs is also a spiritual fish, which feeds with eager appetite upon our observations of the world, and may in turn contribute to a noble interest in tracing the Lord's providence in worldly affairs. So too an absorbing interest in the external forms of worship, and in the mere letter of the Bible, are fishes which may easily become food for more spiritual affections. (AE 654) But these same fishes - affections for gathering natural knowledge - are bad when they refuse to minister to the spiritual life, and attending only to the evidences of the senses, fall into many errors which they eagerly confirm. (AC 991; AR 405)
Who remembers a passage in the Bible, where fishes are mentioned? Perhaps we can get a glimpse of its spiritual meaning.
We remember, of course, in the story of creation how "God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl, after his kind: and God saw that it was good." (Gen. i. 20, 21) It is interesting to see how closely the fishes are here associated with the birds, meaning God's gift to men of the affections for gathering natural knowledge and for perceiving spiritual truth. (AC 40, 42) We remember also the words of the Psalm: "Thou hast put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beast of the field; the fowl of the air and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas." (Ps. viii. 6-8; Gen. i. 26) It shows that the affection for gathering natural knowledge, together with the other affections of the heart, are given by the Lord to minister to our spiritual, truly human life. (AE 513; AC 52)
A less familiar passage, but very beautiful and very plain in its Chapter, is found in Ezekiel, in his vision of the temple. "Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward. . . . Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that everything that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither. . . . Their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many." (Ezek. xlvii. 1-10) The natural picture is of the healing waters flowing from the temple at Jerusalem, down through the wilderness of Judaea into the Dead Sea, making it fresh and causing it to abound in fish. Plainly this is the same stream of the water of life seen by John in the Revelation, and it means the Divine truth which the Lord gives to enable us to "cease to do evil " and to "learn to do well." It flows down into our natural external life, purifies it, and calls into existence abundant affections for natural knowledge which are helpful to good life. (AE 513; AC 2702)
Can we also understand what is meant in several places by the water becoming bad, causing the fish to die? "And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. And the fish that was in the river died." (Exod. vii. 20, 21; Ps. cv. 29) The plagues of Egypt were simply outward manifestations of the state of the people. The turning of the water to blood shows that truth in their minds had become falsity; and the death of the fish shows that the affections for gathering knowledge had therefore lost all spiritual life. (AE 513; AC 7316, 7318) Much the same spiritual condition is described in the Revelation. "The third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died." (Rev. viii. 8, 9; AR 404, 405; AE 513)
The Lord said in a parable: "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 shall it be at the end of the world." (Matt. xiii. 47-49) It tells how we are lifted up by death, out of the atmosphere of natural thought and life, where good and evil appear much alike, into the spiritual world where the real character of each is plainly seen, and separation is possible. (AE 513; LJ 70) "And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net
into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." (Matt. iv. 18, 19; Luke v. 3-1I; John xxi. 1-13) The disciples were fishermen, catching fish from the sea to be food for men. The Lord would enable them to be spiritual fishermen; and spiritual fishermen are those who teach natural truths of science or of the letter of the Word, with the purpose of strengthening the spiritual life. (AC 3309, 10582; AE 600) The disciples would also be fishers in a sense a little less abstract, for it would be their duty and privilege to lift men up from the atmosphere of natural worldly life into the air and sunshine of spiritual life. (AE 513; AR 405)
They came to Peter, asking for the tribute to the temple; and the Lord said, "Lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea and cast 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. xvii. 27) The kings of the earth take tribute of strangers; which implies that the kingdom of heaven in us should be ministered to by those things which are strange or foreign to it. But what is there in a disciple of the Lord, and especially what was there in the Lord Himself, which was a stranger and must pay tribute to the higher life? Nothing which was from above, but the plane of natural life which was from the world, with its affections - for example, its affection for learning, especially from the letter of the Word. The true position of this natural affection, as a servant to the spiritual life, the Lord represented by providing that the tribute should come neither from Peter nor from Himself, but from the fish. (AE 513; AC 6394)
Once when the Lord had been teaching the people on the shore of Galilee, He bade the disciples to make them sit down by companies upon the green grass. "And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all." (Mark vi. 41) At another time He took "seven loaves and a few small fishes" and fed the multitude. (Mark viii. 6, 7) The feeding of the people with loaves and fishes was but an outward expression of the spiritual work the Lord had been doing in feeding their minds with good affection and thought. The loaves in this case represent the satisfying of their hearts with good affection, and the fishes represent the interest in gathering knowledge which the Lord imparted to them. The few barley loaves and little fishes mean that it was little that the people were able to receive, and of a comparatively natural kind; but into this little the Lord put the blessing of heavenly life. (AE 617, 430, 340)
When the Lord appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, and showed them His hands and His feet to prove that He was still present with them in their natural, worldly life, He also asked them, "Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them." (Luke xxiv. 41-43) This was still another sign that the Lord shares with us all the things of our natural life. Eating the fish shows that He shares with us the things of natural knowledge, and taking the honey shows that He is present in the pleasure of good natural affections. Especially it means that the Lord is with us as in a simple way we gather knowledge from His Word and find it delightful. (AE 513; AC 5620)